New Delhi: The Centre on Friday said the statement by Leo Heller, the United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, reflected a serious insensitivity towards Mahatma Gandhi.

In a statement, the Union ministry of drinking water and sanitation criticised the press release issued by Heller in which he said, “Now is a critical time to replace the lens of those glasses (Gandhi’s glasses in the Swachh Bharat hoardings) with the human rights lens.”

The statement issued by the Centre observed, “The world knows that the Mahatma was the foremost proponent of human rights, including for sanitation, his unique and special focus. Gandhiji’s glasses, the unique logo of the Swachh Bharat Mission, epitomise core human rights principles.”

Referring to Heller’s “incomplete understanding” of water and sanitation in India, the statement claimed that the UNSR had failed to acknowledge the “paradigm shift” in the national sanitation policy, which had moved from construction of toilets to open defecation-free communities, and that it seemed that he was looking at the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) through a “tinted lens”.

Reacting sharply to Heller’s statement, the Centre noted that while the UNSR appeared to compliment India’s efforts in the recent years in addressing the gaps in water and sanitation services through an “unprecedented commitment”, he had made sweeping judgements which were based on factually incorrect and incomplete information, grossly misrepresenting the drinking water and sanitation situation on the ground.

“Admitting that two weeks were not sufficient to fully understand all the aspects of the situation of human rights to water and sanitation in a country as big, diverse and complex as India, he (Heller) still goes ahead to make the unsubstantiated allegation that human rights principles have not been properly addressed in India’s water and sanitation programmes,” the Centre said.

It also questioned Heller’s attempts to raise doubts over the findings of a third party (a survey conducted by the Quality Council of India, involving 1,40,000 households, which claimed that the usage of toilets in the country was above 91 per cent) by “misleadingly” comparing it to a survey covering only 1,024 households by the Water Aid, an NGO, which only focused on toilet technology and not on usage.

Regarding Heller’s allegation on lack of toilets in government schools, the Centre pointed out that “an unprecedented programme to ensure separate toilets for boys and girls in every school was successfully implemented in just one year, between August 2014 and August 2015″.

It rejected Heller’s “mostly baseless assertions” and reiterated that the Swachh Bharat Mission and the rural and urban drinking water programmes fully conformed to the Human Rights Criteria and Principles (as established by the UN system).

“The above are only a few examples of the inaccuracies, sweeping generalisations and biases revealed in the UNSR’s rambling report (often confusing between rural and urban) on human rights and water supply and sanitation in India, which has been produced after only a two-week visit with fleeting trips to a few states and including some anecdotal references,” the Centre said.

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