• The Law Gazette

Sanitation Law in India

Sanitation is not under any particular law or legislation. Article 21 of the Constitution of India has been interpreted by the Supreme Court stating that the fundamental right to life includes the Right to Sanitation. This is considered as one of the ways to address sanitation issues. Sanitation is also part of human rights under environmental sustainability. As per the Constitution of India, regulation and governance of sanitation in India are in the purview of state governments and local governments. This article will further discuss on Human Rights to sanitation, its regulation and governance, and Sanitation during COVID-19.


The Constitution of India explicitly does not recognize the right to sanitation. The Constitution of India recognizes the right to sanitation indirectly in different forms. The higher judiciary in India has interpreted the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution to include the right to sanitation. The right to sanitation is a fundamental right and covers the right to life which is a justiciable right.

In Virender Gaur v. State of Haryana,[i] Article 21 protects the right to life as a fundamental right. Enjoyment of life and its attainment including the right to life with human dignity encompasses sanitation within its ambit without which life cannot be enjoyed.

The Court in LK Koolwal v. State of Haryana [ii] held that maintenance of health, preservation of sanitation and the environment falls within the purview of Article 21 of the Constitution as it adversely affects the life of the citizen and amounts to slow poisoning and reducing the life of the citizen because of the hazards created, if not checked.

The ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’ under Part IV of the Constitution of India also covers sanitation. To be more specific, it lies under Article 47 of the Constitution, where the duty lies on the government to raise the standard of living. Sanitation is undoubtedly a factor that contributes to a decent standard of living. Article 48A also speaks on sanitation which makes it a duty of the state to ‘protect and improve the environment’. As the Directive Principles are not enforceable, no individual can approach a court against the government for its failure to give effect to the above-mentioned provisions. However, the government must implement important fundamental norms in the context of sanitation.


Duties of Local bodies

The duty of sanitation of gram panchayats is secured under the Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) laws. Under this, the obligations of the panchayats incorporate the obligation to take every single essential activity for the improvement of sanitation, usage of provincial sanitation plots, and completing sanitation-related exercises, for example, cleaning of open streets, channels, tanks, wells, and other open spots; development and upkeep of open restrooms; and support and guideline of the cemetery.

The gram panchayats should play the lead job especially to the issues where sanitation is concerned, panchayats at the square, and region level likewise assume pivotal jobs. In urban spots, sanitation is an obligation of urban nearby bodies under laws overseeing urban neighborhood bodies. Obligations in such manner incorporate the removal of strong and fluid waste. In some metropolitan urban communities, parastatal organizations are liable for water gracefully, sewerage, and sanitation.[iii]

Judicial forums and the courts in India have underlined the duty of local bodies to provide and maintain sanitation facilities. For example, the Apex court in the Ratlam Municipality case[iv] held that the urban local bodies cannot rely on lack of money as an excuse for not undertaking its sanitation related duties mentioned in the statute. In the case, as mentioned above, a responsible municipal council constituted for the precise purpose of preserving public health and providing better finances cannot run away from its principal duty by pleading financial inability.

Decency and dignity are non-negotiable facets of human rights and are the first charge on local self-governing bodies. Similarly, providing drainage systems- not pompous and attractive, but in working condition and sufficient to meet the needs of the people cannot be evaded if the municipality is to justify its existence.


The cleaning of sewerage frameworks and treatment of human waste, as a rule, is as yet completed fundamentally by Dalits, for the most part, Dalit ladies. This inappropriate and informal human excreta removal practice is incredibly perilous to the soundness of the people engaged with it, also the psychological and social injury connected to it. Further, it is likewise unsafe for the earth.

Therefore, the duration of the act of manual rummaging is an infringement of the privilege of sanitation just as numerous other fundamental human rights including nobility and well being. Utilization of dry lavatories just as its manual cleaning by individuals having a place with a couple of lower station networks is contrary and conflicting to one side to sanitation.

The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act was enacted in 1993 to prohibit the construction of dry latrines and the employment of manual scavengers. However, most of the state governments, if not all, failed to implement the Act. This led to two important changes, public interest litigation (PIL) filed in the Supreme Court in 20031 and the enactment of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.

The 2013 Act is additionally applicable morally justified to sanitation setting as it brings the rights and security of sanitation laborers inside its ambit too, which was missing in the 1993 Act. While the 2013 Act doesn’t detail the legitimate necessities to guarantee security and respect of sanitation laborers, the higher legal executive has filled this hole through orders.


Sanitation waste during the period of Coronavirus is period is governed by the Biomedical Waste Management Rules, 2016. These guidelines ensure that the medical establishments, urban local bodies, isolation wards, sample collection centers, quarantine centers, laboratories, and operators of common biomedical waste treatment facilities to follow strict and stringent handling practices for COVID-related waste.

Many states have taken appropriate steps for the safe disposal of COVID- 19 waste. But, due to lock down and any other reason for the same, challenges for the communication has raised between government departments and covered departments and organizations, with important communication sometimes being delayed. This pandemic will remain in the history of sanitation for the segregation practice and bring a new change in every individual behavioral mind. After the Health workers, sanitation workers are the second most important human shield to coronavirus.


It is indeed a very high time for the need of a specific statutory framework on sanitation which should be based on the idea of the right to sanitation be explored. And this statutory framework should lay down principles, rules, and norms to guide the implementation of sanitation programs and schemes. Now sanitation is in the legislative domain of the state governments and the central government could frame a draft bill to present and guide it to the state governments.

ENDNOTES [i] Virender Gaur v. State of Haryana, (1995)2 SCC 577 [ii] LK Koolwal v. State of Haryana, AIR 1988 Raj. 2

[iii]Sujith Koonan, Right to Sanitation In India, K.J. Joy and Sarita Bhagat (eds), http://www.ielrc.org/content/a1608.pdf (last accessed 06 August, 2020 at 17:56). [iv] Municipal Council, Ratlam v. Vardhichand, AIR 1980 SC 1622


This blog has been authored by Vangipurapu Aasritha who is a Final Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam.