in Manipur and the United Nations

United Nations

Special Rapporteur_watsan submits final report of Mission to India to UN Human Rights Council, 10-28 September 2018

The final report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller, on his official visit to India from 27 October to 10 November 2017, was submitted to the 39th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, 10-28 September 2018 in Geneva.


Report of Mission to India


End of Mission Statement by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation Mr. Léo Heller

New Delhi, 10 November 2017

As the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, I address you today at the conclusion of my official visit to India, which I undertook at the invitation of the Government from 27 October to 10 November 2017.

India is a country with historical gaps regarding the access of its population to adequate water and sanitation services. It is reported that 40 per cent of India’s population practiced open defecation in 2015, one of the highest proportions among all countries. The situation of water and sanitation in the country has resulted in a disturbing impact on human health: diarrhoea-related deaths in India attributable to inadequate water, sanitation, and hygiene corresponded to 40 per cent of the total number in all low and middle-income countries in 2012. And, to my surprise, this situation is not explained only by the level of development of the country: the Human Development Index of India is higher than that of dozens of other countries.

In recent years, the efforts of the country in addressing these problems, mainly access to sanitation services, have been recognized as an “unprecedented commitment”.

These circumstances motivated me to undertake this visit to the country in order to identify the main obstacles hindering the full realization of the rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. Firstly, I would like to thank the Government of India for the invitation and organisation of the visit, and for the dialogues that took place. I am grateful to the central, state and local Government representatives that I met and I appreciate the spirit of openness with which I was able to engage with the authorities. During the visit, I also met with various civil society and community organisations, and residents. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to meet with me and who generously shared their personal experiences, testimonies and living conditions with me. Their contributions were vital to the success of this visit. I would also like to thank the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office in India for facilitating the visit. (See information about the visit at the end of the statement).

At the outset, I would like to clarify that this statement outlines my preliminary findings and recommendations based on the information gathered prior to and during the visit. My final and more complete report will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council at its 39th session in September 2018.

* * *
At the end of this two-week visit in India, my impression of India’s water and sanitation sector and how the Government of India is addressing its human rights obligations regarding the rights to water and sanitation is largely mixed.
My first impression is greatly positive.

India’s case law on the human rights to water and sanitation are internationally recognized as progressive. While the Indian Constitution does not explicitly stipulate the human rights to drinking water and sanitation, article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life, which has on several occasions been interpreted by the courts to include the right to drinking water. As early as the 1990’s, the Indian judiciary has formally recognized the right to water as derived from the right to life. Most recently, in 2014, the Mumbai High Court held that the slum dwellers who occupied illegal huts cannot be deprived of their fundamental right to water. In another case, in 2014, the Supreme Court affirmed transgender persons’ right to their self-identified gender and directed the Government to provide them separate public toilets.

At the policy level, the Government of India is in the process of implementing several national programmes that aim to improve access to drinking water and sanitation. Notably, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) was the most frequently discussed topic during my interactions with both the government and civil society. I warmly commend the Prime Minister for his personal motivation and push in building political will from the central government to the most basic unit of administrative body (gram panchayat) and to all persons in India to eliminate open defecation. The main goal of the programme is to end this practice by October 2019 through the massive installation of millions of toilets across the country and an impressive budget. This is a unique effort of a country in the contemporary world to face its challenges related to sanitation in an extremely short time span. Surely, this is a large step towards the progressive realization of the Indian population’s human right to sanitation.

However, through my dialogues and interaction with the several tiers of the Government, civil society and community members, my outlook on the way that water and sanitation services are being provided and scaled up throughout the country became more nuanced. My impression is that policy and programme initiatives in India’s water and sanitation sector, and the related implementation measures, lack a clear and holistic human rights-based approach. The national programmes do not incorporate the human rights to drinking water and sanitation as a whole but rather in a piecemeal manner.

My particular concerns for the gaps in the application of the human rights framework in the Indian water and sanitation sector are illustrated in the following pivotal issues. The aim here is to provide insights on how to introduce a more human rights oriented approach in this sector. The normative content of the human rights to water and sanitation include the following elements: availability, accessibility, acceptability, affordability, quality/safety, privacy and dignity; as well as fundamental human rights principles: right to access to information, participation and remedy, accountability, equality and non-discrimination, progressive realization. In this connection, I would like to reiteratie India’s commitment as a State party to several international human rights treaties and India’s support on the rights to water and sanitation at the international level.

1. “Open defecation free” mustn’t be human rights free

The new paradigm initiated by Clean India Mission has provided considerable impetus to build infrastructure, particularly toilets. On my last day in India, the website of the Clean India Mission showed a striking number of 53 million toilets built in the last 3 years and one month, only in the rural area. During the visit, I had the opportunity to visit some rural communities in Uttar Pradesh, certified as open defecation free, and I was able to see and hear about the significant improvements in their sanitary conditions.

According to the responsible ministries, the protocol to certify an “open defecation free” area (e.g. city, village, ward) is not the same for rural and urban areas. I learned that in some places “open defecation free” certified areas are often not de facto open defecation free. In a certified “open defecation free” village that I visited (Chinhat ward, Naubasta Kalan, Lucknow), some elderly people reported that they continue to practice open defecation for personal preference and comfort. In Mumbai, the local authority identified 118 zones that were used for open defecation and built collective toilets within 500 meters of those areas. Yet, some residents in those zones still choose to defecate in the open due to habitual, cultural and practical reasons. From the human rights perspective, making areas open defecation free is more than checking off the criteria; the status of open defecation free is not “black and white”, but is a gradual achievement in line with the progressive realization of the human right to sanitation.

While some individuals choose to defecate in the open as a matter of preference, I visited areas where open defecation remained the only feasible option. This was particularly true in slums and in rural villages and in resettlements sites, where community toilets were often far away or inexistent. In the non-notified slum Vinaykpuram (Lucknow), all dwellers defecate in the open. In my walk around the slum, I saw no functional community toilets close by and the only one dysfunctional toilet that was built two years ago. In Savda Chevras (Delhi), a resettlement site, I visited a community toilet that had no light or locks. Furthermore, in villages near the Thoubal Dam in Imphal, Manipur, local authorities had only partially constructed some household toilets and while the intended beneficiaries wait for them to be finished they have no choice but to defecate in the open.

Together with the Clean India Mission, other policy initiatives on ensuring access to water and sanitation in schools have been implemented but have evidently still not met their goals. For example, in 2015, the Department of Human Resources announced that schools should have separate toilets for boys and girls. The Government reports having built separate toilets “in every government school”: 226,000 toilets for boys and 191,000 toilets for girls were apparently constructed from August 2014 to August 2015 under the Swachh Vidyalaya Campaign. Yet, in 2016, only 61.9 per cent of schools have available and useable girls’ toilets (up from 32.9 per cent in 2010 and 55.7 per cent in 2014). Indeed, in Sarthara village (near Lucknow), I visited a school for primary and upper grades composed of 130 students where no functioning toilets are available; two small toilet facilities with 2 urinals and 1 toilet each are being built.

The Clean India Mission does possess an explicit component on Information, Education and Communication (IEC) and the central government—but not all State governments— is apparently spending the expected budget to such activities. Be it due to insufficient financial resources or inadequate methodology adopted for these activities, it is likely that this fundamental aspect of the program is not achieving its desired outcomes: the sustainable and safe usage of toilets.
The results of assessments on sustainability, safety and usage of toilets vary largely and depend on the methodology.

According to surveys conducted in 2016 and 2017 by the Quality Council of India, approximately 91 per cent of toilets that had been built were being used. An assessment conducted by WaterAid suggests a different scenario, highlighting that usage may be susceptible to decreasing very soon without continued efforts to make infrastructure sustainable. In the survey, “only 33 per cent of toilets were deemed sustainably safe (eliminating risks of contamination in the long term); 35 per cent were safe, but would need major upgrades to remain safe in the long term; and 31 per cent were unsafe, creating immediate health hazards”. Indeed, I observed several cases of abandoned or poorly maintained toilets. Toilets may also be installed with doors that do not have locks, which negatively affect users of privacy. Conversely, I observed and heard of several cases where functioning toilets exist in public places but are left locked.

Talking with government officials, community representatives and residents, it became clear to me that open defecation is often an ingrained personal and social practice, and that it can be difficult to persuade people to end this practice. In several States challenges were reported in achieving behaviour change in their communities, particularly for the elderly. At the same time, I met many individuals in villages who enthusiastically explained their satisfaction with the benefits that come with having an individual household toilet. Many, including government officials, expressed doubts that behaviour change can be done in a short time period and would be sustainable in the long term for all those recently “converted” to using toilets.

The Clean India Mission is heavily target- and performance-oriented, with a very short time frame given the scale of its desired outcomes. Implementation of the program involves strong competition at all levels (villages, districts and states).

However, likely as an unintended consequence of the desire to obtain rewards, some aggressive and abusive practices seem to have emerged. In the interest of achieving the targets and obtaining the corresponding rewards, I have received several testimonies that people are being coerced—sometimes through public authorities—to, on the one hand, quickly construct toilets and, on the other, stop practising open defecation. For instance, individuals could have their ration cards revoked, which directly impacts on their right to food. Households with overdue energy bills, hitherto tolerated by the authorities, could have their service cut off. In others cases, individuals defecating in the open are apparently being shamed, harassed or otherwise penalized. In response to such cases, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation recognized the existence of abuses associated with the Clean India Mission implementation and issued at least two advisories to all local States underlining that such practices must stop. In my view, these abuses require a continuous monitoring and accountability by the several tiers of government for the achievement of open defecation free and, at the same time, upholding the dignity of all persons and without violating other fundamental rights.

Another key concern is related to the level of sanitation services that has been provided in India. Under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the target and the indicator for universal access to sanitation (target 6.2) adopts the definition of “safely managed services”, meaning that people should use improved sanitation facilities not shared with other households. This requires providing individual households facilities to those who currently rely on community toilets. Applying this concept also indicates the need for improved management of greywater, which commonly flows into open drains in India. This standard will also require an effective faecal sludge management for excreta stored in latrines, as well as a massive increase in wastewater treatment plants for the sewage collected by sewerage systems, mostly in cities.

2. Efforts for water at a slower pace than sanitation

While the Clean India Mission has raised sanitation to the top of the country’s agenda, access to improved water has received less attention. This raises serious concerns: in India, unsafe water is responsible for 68 per cent more diarrhoea deaths than unsafe sanitation.

While India achieved the Millenium Development Goals for sustainable access to safe drinking water, I would like to highlight that the way in which Indian people currently access water services is far from meeting requirements established by the SDG 6.1 target and indicator, namely, through the already mentioned concept of “safely managed service”. This standard requires that water is accessible on premises, meaning that public water points are not considered as “safely managed service”. The concept also states that water should be available when needed, which will require that water in urban and rural areas is provided continuously. Further, “safely managed service” also means that water should be free from faecal contamination and hazardous levels of arsenic and fluoride. In connection with this, the relevant bodies at all levels require appropriate processes to monitor and survey drinking water quality, and to properly remove chemical and microbiological contamination.

In 2015, 92 per cent of India population was reported to have access to improved sources of water. When we use the stricter definition adopted under the SDGs, this proportion reduces dramatically: only 49 per cent of the rural population receive water meeting this standard. For the urban areas, 73 per cent of the population have water accessible on premises and 86 per cent have it available when needed.1 No consolidated information for drinking water quality in Indian urban areas are available in the SDG baseline report.

Drinking water quality is a matter of concern. In the country, 85 per cent of rural drinking water supply and 50 per cent of urban drinking water supply come from groundwater sources. Accessing groundwater may be a serious concern in different parts of India, considering the known problems of water contamination by arsenic and fluoride, but also by pathogens. According to the West Bengal Pollution Control Board, 38 per cent of the groundwater in the State is contaminated with arsenic and fluoride. This is a huge problem, because approximately 84 per cent of the rural population in West Bengal depends on groundwater sources for drinking water. Although the central and state governments have been adopting different measures to control this chemical contamination, those measures have not been entirely effective and the problem worryingly persists, causing serious health effects. For instance, I met a man living at Gobindapur village near the Bangladesh border, who was suffering from chronic arsenicosis and who show me the effects of this disease on different parts of his skin. His brother has passed away due to arsenic contamination and his family members also suffer similar negative health impact.

Another key issue related to water quality is faecal contamination. The general state of surface waters in the country, considering the conditions of access to adequate sanitation services, particularly the deficits in wastewater treatment, poses severe threats to a high microbiological standard of the water consumed. The Joint Monitoring Programme WHO/UNICEF, for the Sustainable Development Goals, reports that more than one third of the water consumed by rural populations are contaminated. Different studies are showing doubtful microbiological drinking water quality in different parts of India. One additional relevant remark, related to health risks due to drinking water ingestion, is that many households do not treat water before consumption.

To my understanding, affordability should be treated as an integral part of the indicator’s definition of “safely managed” services. In general, access to water services by the population provided by formal systems in India, including urban population connected to the piped systems, is relatively affordable. However, I have witnessed several situations where users are forced to rely on informal providers who sell water at an extremely higher price than the formal provision. In a resettlement site in Delhi, residents that were not able to collect water from the Delhi Jal Board water tank must rely on Water ATMs, meaning that they must have adequate financial resources to ensure themselves water of an acceptable quality. In Kolkata, informal vendors transport water obtained freely through public taps and charge slums dwellers for the delivery (20 Indian rupees for 20 litres of water). In the informal settlement of Kaula Bunder, Mumbai Port Trust, a so-called “water mafia” operates a highly complex and unsafe network that is illegally sourced from the municipal water network. Although municipal and state authorities denied its existence, I witnessed a web of water mains suspended in the air (so-called “flying pipes”) between the informal settlement’s 7,000 shacks, snaking across the ground and passing through immense heaps of waste to be paid high prices for by its residents.

Just as water and sanitation services go hand in hand, the rights to access improved water and improved sanitation must be addressed as a package. The two services are highly interrelated. For many people that I met during my visit, lacking water is a major impediment to making toilet construction meaningful and to achieving behaviour change in association with open defecation. Notably, the toilet designs promoted by the Government of India in the context of the Clean India Mission—even those requiring low volumes—require water to function. For many people, needing more water can be a considerable hassle that must be worth their added time and effort. In this context, I would like to emphasize that the right to water and the right to sanitation are distinct but integrated rights.

3. Substandard services for people and groups in vulnerable situations

My findings reveal that several determinants have a heightened likelihood of predicting where or why people have lower quality access to adequate water and sanitation services: disability, gender, caste, tribe, place of residence in terms of urban or rural areas, land tenure (especially in urban areas, e.g. residence in formal vs. informal settlements), among others. The ways in which these factors can impact on one’s access are diverse but, importantly, a combination of any of these factors is likely to have a multiplying effect. For example, disabled persons widely suffer from a lack of accessible sanitation infrastructure, but female disabled persons can suffer more, and still more from the added lack of material and social conditions to ensure menstrual hygiene management.

According to a global report1, only 43 per cent of India’s population has access to piped water. In rural areas, where 67.5 per cent of the country’s residents live, access to piped water is only available to 31 per cent of the population (about 270 million people out of the country’s 1.3 billion). Meanwhile, in urban areas it is available to 69 per cent of the population. A similarly stark divide separates access to water on premises in rural vs. urban areas: 49 per cent and 73 per cent, respectively in 2015.1 Not being available on premises, rural populations—most often women and children—are thus far more likely to spend precious time fetching water from surface water, boreholes, tube wells, or in some cases public stand posts and water tankers. As several people reiterated to me during my visit, the cost opportunity associated with collecting water is high for children, as it commonly impacts their time to attend schools, and for women’s rights to equal opportunity. Women are also exposed to violence as a result of this burden; in the hilly districts of the State of Manipur, there have been reports of sexual violence when women go to fetch water.

Scheduled Tribes populations live overwhelmingly in rural areas (90 per cent according to data from the 2011 census). I met with a representative of a Scheduled Tribe population of about 12,000 people living in the Sanjay Gandhi national park near the Borivali district (located about 30 to 40 kilometers from Mumbai). Since neither district nor central government authorities have provided them with water and sanitation services after several years, the population thus has no choice but to defecate in the open and, at times, risks being attacked or even killed by wild animals. “Pani nahi, shouchalay nahi” (no water, no toilet) was the way the representative expressed his concern to me.

Rural populations’ access to water is also affected by large projects that directly or indirectly impact on essential water sources used for drinking, domestic uses or livelihood. In Manipur, I was informed of how large infrastructures (dams, railways, roads and industrial projects) impact water sources of rural villages. In particular, I visited two downstream villages of the Thoubal Multipurpose Dam who no longer relies on the river as their drinking water source, due to the deteriorated water quality, and had to pay for accessing water source of a nearby village.

Another group that falls outside the purview of any government protection are the undocumented population living in the 51 erstwhile Bangladeshi enclaves situated in India and 111 erstwhile Indian enclaves situated in Bangladesh. Since 2015, upon the signing of the Land Boundary Agreement by the Indian and Bangladesh Governments, 922 people are living in three resettlement camps situated in Dinhata, Mekhliganj and Haldibari, in Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. Those people do not possess a toilet within their houses and are forced to defecate in the open. Their access to water is provided through few tube wells that were dug by the government; they mostly do not work and provide water of an inadequate quality. It is important to highlight, in this particular context, the obligation of India to uphold the rights to water and sanitation not only to Indians but also to foreigners who reside in the territory as well as those people who are not documented.

Discriminatory patterns also exist within urban areas in ways that affect several rights in addition to the rights to water and sanitation, such as the right to health, to adequate housing, and to basic dignity.

Access to drinking water and sanitation in informal settlements is concerning in various slums that I visited in Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata and Mumbai. Like in the case of Mumbai, India’s most populous city, slums are the homes of more than half of the city’s 18 million inhabitants. In this context, it is important to highlight that, in many cases, particular groups (including but not limited to special castes) disproportionately populate slum settlements. In general, adequate access to water and toilets does not exist within most of the slums that were visited.

In fact, the conditions of access to water and sanitation in those areas can differ greatly and can be considerably influenced by the legal recognition of the settlement and land tenure associated to it. “Notified”, or legally recognized settlements, at times receive some sort of services from public authorities (e.g. water tankers providing free water a few times a week), while non-notified settlements are denied any intervention from public water service providers. While some stand posts and boreholes are available within or close to some non-notified settlements, they are not always constructed by the public authorities and it is uncertain if the quality of the water is monitored. In an informal settlement located in Bhim Nagar, Maharashtra Nagar (Mumbai), access to water for a total of 160 houses came from a variety of sources, some closeby (including holes dug in the ground to access poor quality groundwater) and others farther away.

In several cases that I observed, people’s reliance on sources of drinking water outside their premises means that persons of all ages are forced to queue at specific times of the day to fetch water from public taps. Taking advantage of the acute availability, they bath outdoors and collect water in buckets and jugs. Children and elderly people, in particular, physically struggle to carry water back to their households.

Community toilets are often available in small numbers in relation to the number of families that require those facilities. Moreover, according to reports, they are usually not disability-adapted, maladaptive and unaccepting of transgender persons, and lacking adequate facilities for handwashing and for menstrual hygiene management. Moreover, the quality and safety of those facilities is usually very precarious; in some cases, community toilet infrastructure has collapsed while people have been queuing to use them, making them fall into the pits containing excreta and die. Obviously, where infrastructure exists but is not safe and accessible to users, the right to sanitation is not being realized and, in the case of India, open defecation may be unknowingly perpetuated.

During my visit, I received several reports and observed in many cases that public places, including schools, transport hubs and police stations lack sufficient and adequate facilities for water and toilets, affecting India’s large “population on the move”, which includes homeless, street vendors, rickshaw drivers and seasonal migrant workers. Whether homeless or workers, access to water and sanitation in public spaces must be guaranteed by the Government.

Discrimination against manual scavengers is another concern. Through the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013, the Government has made efforts to identify and rehabilitate manual scavengers into different occupations. Having done this exercise, it is widely believed that manual scavenging no longer exists.

Yet, concerns continue to exist. During my interaction with civil society, several surveys identifying the number of manual scavengers were presented to me. There are discrepancies in those numbers, as identified by the Government and surveys by civil society. From a human rights perspective, whether individuals are engaged in manual cleaning of open pits, septic tanks or sewer lines, with or without protective gear, in direct contact with excreta—as per the definition in the Act— is not a relevant factor to ascertaining that manual scavenging is a caste-based discrimination.

During the visit, I met several people that indicated that either themselves, their relatives or neighbours continue to be employed in manual scavenging practice. I met with a number of current manual scavengers in Uttar Pradesh from various districts (Mainpuri, Hardoi, Bareli, Firojabad) who are engaged in manual scavenging. I heard from several family members, during meetings in Delhi and Lucknow, a number of relatives (husbands, brothers, and sons) that died during the hard work of emptying latrines or cleaning sewer lines, without receiving adequate compensations from the State and having faced much difficulties in filing cases for compensation.

In taking steps forward in the realisation of the right to sanitation, India may involuntarily contribute to violating the fundamental principle of non-discrimination. Particularly given the generations-old practice of imposing sanitary tasks onto the lower castes, the growth in number of toilets raises concerns that manual scavenging will continue to be practiced in a caste-based, discriminatory fashion.

Even in the case of Clean India Mission’s preferred technology for excreta disposal—the twin-pit latrine—it is nevertheless questionable that manual scavenging as a discriminatory practice will be eliminated. Firstly, communication efforts will have to be extensive and continuous for many years in order for hundreds of millions of people to acquire and assimilate the knowledge of how they function (the first pit is filled with waste, the pit is switched, the first pit is not touched for at least one year, and after that period the waste can be removed safely). Secondly, some studies have indicated that the construction of single pit latrines is actually on the rise across several Indian states, which will require even more unsafe work from manual scavengers.

SDG 6.2 also requires equitable access and special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations. To uphold India’s commitment to achieve the SDGs by 2030, the Government of India needs to monitor the progress towards targets 6.1 and 6.2. Moreover, to uphold India’s human rights obligations, it must develop methodologies that take into account the normative contents of the human rights to water and sanitation, and monitor inequalities in access to these services. India must adopt a national consensus on the next steps on water and sanitation policies so that no one is left behind.

* * *

My official visit to India took place at the crucial juncture of India’s rapid progress towards achieving the goal of eliminating open defecation through the Clean India Mission. I would like to take the opportunity to reiterate my praise to the Government of India for the important progress that has been achieved and emphasize that the Clean India Mission, together with all other concurrent activities in the water and sanitation sector, must incorporate a human rights perspective. This will be essential to safeguard the rights of its population and for India to meet the targets of the Agenda 2030. In other words, better access to water and sanitation in India will strongly benefit its population and will help the country to meet the commitments of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Two-weeks is not sufficient to fully understand all aspects of the situation of human rights to water and sanitation in a country as big, diverse and complex as India. After the visit, I will gather further information, provide an analysis of and recommendation to the issues that I have mentioned today, together with other issues including but not limited to regulatory framework, privatization, national legislation recognizing the human rights to water and sanitation and disaggregation of monitoring data.

Information about the visit

I met with Government officials at the Union, State and local level: Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Railways, National Institute of Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, National Human Rights Commission and National Commission for Women, National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Safai Karamacharis, Delhi Jal Board, Government of Uttar Pradesh, Government of Maharashtra, Government of Manipur, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, and Municipal Corporation of Imphal.

During the visit, I also visited and interacted with communities in Delhi, Sarai Kale Khan (homeless shelter and flyover), Lal Bagh (non-notified slum), Mansarovar Park, Savda Ghevra resettlement site, Mundka Ward; in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh: Chinhat ward Naubasta Kalan, Daulatpur village, Naubasta Kala village, Sarthara village, Vinaykpuram (slum) and small Jugauli (notified); in Kolkata, West Bengal, Tangra Dhapa and North Tangra; and in Imphal, Manipur, Nungbrang and Leirongthel Villages (downstream villages located near Thoubal Multipurpose Project.



UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation to visit Manipur

The Special Rapporteur has accepted the invitation from Manipur! He is expected in Imphal from 7-8 November 2017.

Profile of Mr. Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation

Mr. Leo Heller, Special RapporteurMr. Léo Heller is the second Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. He was appointed by the Human Rights Council in November 2014, having started his mandate on 1 December that year. Heller is currently a researcher in the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil. Previously, Heller was Professor of the Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil from 1990 to 2014.  During his career in the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Heller held several positions including the Head of the Department of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering, Associate Provost of Graduate Studies, Dean of the School of Engineering and coordinator of the Graduate Program in Basic Sanitation, the Environment and Water Resources.

Heller has extensive experience in formulating policies, teaching and researching in the field of public policy and management and of environmental health related to water and sanitation. He has been coordinating large interdisciplinary research groups and he is author of several books, book chapters and journal articles on technological, health and policy dimensions of water and sanitation. He has long tradition of working together with and taking part in social movements related to human rights to water and sanitation, especially in Latin America.

He holds a BA in civil engineering, MSc in water, sanitation and the environment and PhD in Epidemiology, with a thesis on the association between water and sanitation and health outcomes. He also carried out post-doctoral research at the University of Oxford (2005-2006), focusing on the theoretical aspects of public policy and management in the water and sanitation sector.

Heller speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese.

CSCHR deplores India’s response to peer recommendations in UPR III

A delegation of CSCHR attended the 36th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva. During the session for the adoption of the outcome document on India’s 3rd Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to improve its human rights situation, on 21st September 2017, the Government of India (GoI) formally accepted 152 recommendations out of the 250 recommendations given by 112 member states of the United Nations. The remaining 98 recommendations were simply noted. However, most of the human rights issues critical to the situation in Manipur including the repeal/review of AFSPA, ratification of Convention on Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearances (CED), moratorium on death penalty, ratification of the Rome Statute on International Criminal Court, etc., are only noted without indicating a follow up plan and not accepted. Many international organizations including Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurist, FORUM-ASIA, WGHR, etc., strongly denounced the GoI’s continued refusal to accept the recommendation for the repeal/review of AFSPA.


CSCHR Press Statement_27 September 2017

Press Clippings

CSCHR to launch “A Civil Society Report” on India’s voluntary national review by UN High Level Political Forum of Sustainable Development Goals: Agenda 2030 coordinated by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan

CSCHR will, on Wednesday, 5 July 2017 at the Manipur Press Club, Imphal organise the launch of a national civil society report on Sustainable Development Goals: Agenda 2030 that has been coordinated by the Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, a national campaign to hold the government of India accountable for its promise to end Poverty, Social Exclusion & Discrimination.

India’s challenges and achievements in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals: Agenda 2030 is being reviewed this month (July 2017) by the United Nations High Level Political Forum (HLPF). India’s Voluntary National Review Report on Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals has been submitted to the UN.

Click Link to Download the India Report

Voluntary National Review_HLPF_India 2017


Leave No One Behind
A Life of Dignity for All

5 July 2017

Manipur Press Club, Imphal

Organized by Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and UN (CSCHR)

Supported by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA)


02:30 Pm                       Welcome by CSCHR

02:35 Pm                       Briefing on SDGs and the Process till today

02: 45 Pm                      Discussion: Moderated by Dr. Debabrata Roy Laifungbam                                                                   (Convenor, CSCHR)

03:30 Pm                       Release of Report “Leave No One Behind” by Professor Dr.                                                                   Elangbam Bijoykumar Singh, Director, Centre For the Study                                                                 of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP) 

03:40 Pm                      Conclusion

CSCHR launches submission to Human Rights Council UPR Third Cycle INDIA


Imphal, 13th January 2017

The Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and UN (CSCHR Manipur) submitted its joint stakeholders’ submission report,   “BROKEN PROMISES AND ABDICATED OBLIGATIONS” on the status of human rights in Manipur to the UN Human Rights Council for consideration during the examination of India in the third cycle of Universal Periodic Review on the 4th of May this year. The report, which was submitted on 22 September 2016, was prepared through a collective wide-ranging consultative process, consisting of several formal meetings conducted from August to September 2016.

While voicing clear concerns regarding the increasingly openly and deliberately flaunted human rights protection and promotion by states worldwide, CSCHR’s report focuses on the continuing serious concerns regarding the human rights situation prevailing in Manipur. Manipur remains one of the States with a continuous peoples’ movement for the right to self-determination in India since its merger with the Indian union in 1949 in conditions that violated international law.

The report also highlighted very substantive gaps between the information shared by the government and other stakeholders, the recommendations arising therefrom, the acceptance of such recommendations and their implementation by the government of India. India’s approach to this review of deciding to selectively “accept” specific human rights recommendations regarding the outcomes of its UPR 1st cycle and UPR 2nd cycle reviews undermines the basic principle of human rights and its total disregard of parliamentary scrutiny and public accountability also defeats the purpose of setting up such principles and mechanisms to monitor the implementation and achievements in protecting and promoting human rights.

India has also failed to realize its guarantee under Article 253 of its Constitution in fulfilling international human rights obligations by making necessary and appropriate legislation or incorporating new amending provisions in existing domestic laws in accordance with international standards.

Describing the serious situation prevailing in Manipur, the CSCHR report sought the Human Rights Council’s attention on serious violations of civil and political rights under a repressive de facto military regime and state of emergency that has existed from the 50s. Militarisation has impacted on every sphere of human development and governance, and indigenous peoples’ rights are being aggressively violated. CSCHR also informed the UN about the serious challenges confronting the indigenous peoples of Manipur today due to the state sponsored infusion of outsiders and migrants into Manipur that has dangerous implications to the survival of the native inhabitants, and has also led to land alienation, economic subjugation, political repression, irreparable injury to indigenous culture and tradition, conflicts and violence.

The following recommendations were submitted to be made to the government of India and its union States:

  1. Government of India should respect the Manipur peoples’ right to self-determination as per the General Assembly Resolution 1514, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples and seek a political solution to the ongoing armed conflict in Manipur.
  2. Government of India should repeal Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 as recommended by previous UPR Working Group, Human Rights Committee, Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women as well as the Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defender, Summary, Arbitrary and Extra-judicial Executions, Violence Against Women, etc.
  3. Government of India should also repeal other security legislations and counter terrorism measures, such as the Unlawful Activity Prevention Act, 1967, National Security act, 1980, etc.
  4. Government of India should promptly investigate and prosecute all Indian security forces involved in gross human rights violations.
  5. That the Government of India should remove all its “Reservations” and “Declarations” on all International Conventions and Treaties.
  6. The government of India should ensure that all MoUs for mega dams in Manipur, without indigenous peoples free, prior and informed consent be withdrawn.
  7. The Government of India and Jubilant Energy should stop all petroleum and drilling related activities in Manipur till indigenous peoples’ rights over their land and resources are recognized.
  8. Policies introduced such as the North East Hydrocarbon Policy, 2030, the Manipur Hydroelectric Policy of 2012, Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006, should be repealed.
  9. Stop all plans for forced commissioning of Mapithel Dam. The 105 MW Loktak Multipurpose Hydroelectric Project should be decommissioned
  1. The Government should stop targeting human rights defenders and indigenous organizations involved in promoting sustainable development and in challenging destructive projects
  1. All projects financed by IFIs should take the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples and fully adheres with the provisions of the UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples (UNDRIP)
  2. Recognition of indigenous people as ‘indigenous’ by guaranteeing all indigenous rights of protection and positive discrimination that includes ownership over land and resources.
  3. The Government should fully implement the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007
  4. Ratify the International Labour Organisation’s convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples’ Rights.







CSCHR submits report to the Third Universal Periodic of India

The Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and the UN submitted its second report to the UN Human Rights Council for the forthcoming third Universal Periodic Review of India. The report named STATUS OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN MANIPUR: BROKEN PROMISES AND ABDICATED OBLIGATIONS can be seen and downloaded from the links provided below:






CSCHR submits comments to Post-2015 Development Agenda draft of UN

On 21st June 2015 (New York time), CSCHR submitted its comprehensive general and specific comments to the Zero Draft Outcome Document of the UN’s post-2015 Development Agenda (called the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs). The comments raised some serious concerns about the path of development being visualised by governments and sought to pursued as an agenda till 2030.

The these concerns include:

  • Indigenous peoples vital role in SD absent, no reference to UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), perhaps the most important UN declaration for collectives and natural & cultural heritage
  • “Peoples” left out from the stakeholders in the decision making process: and self determination of peoples narrowly defined against UN standards and past commitments
  • Peace, militarisation and armed conflicts, including arms trade as impediments to SDGs (AFSPA and martial laws including) not addressed in the plan
  • Neoliberal development aggression and model pursued relentlessly
  • Business and private sector as unaccountable “stakeholder” partner with increasingly larger role. No distinctions or categories made regarding this sector.
  • Government acts as proxy and negotiates on behalf of corporate sector, the sector itself is absent in the debates and negotiations
  • Lack of social protection


Zero Draft Post-2015 Summit – 2 June 2015

CSHR Comments to Zero Draft Outcome Document Post2015 Dev Agenda

News Media Briefing Paper on follow-up report of the Special Rapporteur (SR) on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns: INDIA

News Media Briefing Paper for Press Conference

18 June 2015


The Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and the UN (CSCHR) presents a summary of the salient features of the follow-up report of the Special Rapporteur (SR) on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, which he will be presenting to the Human Rights Council 29th session in Geneva later today. The report analyses the steps taken by India to implement the recommendations contained in the mission to India report made following his visit to the country from 19 to 30 March 2012. The follow-up report was prepared on the basis of all available information and was completed on 30 April 2015. The Special Rapporteur requested information from the Government and from other actors on the steps that had been taken to implement the recommendations made. While acknowledging that some steps have been taken since his visit to address human rights violations and in support of victims of terrorist-related activities, the independent expert urges the Government of India to implement the recommendations contained in the visit report in so far as this has not been done. He says that impunity remains a serious challenge, as does the implementation of existing guidelines and directives issued by the courts and national human rights institution.

After that official visit in 2012, during which he also visited the North Eastern region upon the invitation of CSCHR, the SR had reported extrajudicial killings by security officers, the State Police, Armed Forces and armed groups. He also reported killings related to communal violence and practice affecting women rights to life as a serious problem in some areas of the country. In addition, he noted a number of challenges at various stages of the accountability process leading to impunity in many instances. Significantly, the SR raised the question of the AFSPA 1958 strongly and reported to the UN that “the powers granted under AFSPA are in reality broader than that allowable under a state of emergency as the right to life may effectively be suspended under the Act and the safeguards applicable in a state of emergency are absent. Moreover, the widespread deployment of the military creates an environment in which the exception becomes the rule, and the use of lethal force is seen as the primary response to conflict. This situation is also difficult to reconcile in the long term with India’s insistence that it is not engaged in an internal armed conflict. The Special Rapporteur is therefore of the opinion that retaining a law such as AFSPA runs counter to the principles of democracy and human rights. Its repeal will bring domestic law more in line with international standards, and send a strong message that the Government is committed to respect the right to life of all people in the country.”

The SR had made a number of recommendations regarding the need to reform laws, and policies to ensure the accountability of State actors for violations of the right to life, including the repeal of AFSPA; the establishment of a commission of inquiry into extrajudicial executions in India, which should also serve a transitional justice role; the need to increase the protection of civilians, especially vulnerable groups, through legal reform as well as information and awareness-raising campaigns and increased sensitization and orientation programmes; and the need to strengthen State institutions, including the judiciary and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

The SR mentions in his follow-up report that the Supreme Court of India appointed a commission on 4 January 2013 to inquire into six alleged cases of extrajudicial executions in Manipur, to report on the functioning of the State Police and the Security Forces in the state of Manipur and to make recommendations for keeping the police and security forces within the legal bounds without compromising the fight against insurgencies. The Commission also addressed the larger question on the role of the police and the security forces in Manipur. However, much remains to be done to address and prevent extrajudicial killings and to ensure accountability. Often, guidelines provided by the courts or the NHRC and recommendations by commissions of inquiry remain on paper with little or no implementation on the ground. Impunity continues to prevail with various legislative provisions and practices that hinder full and proper accountability. The result is that vulnerable persons, including women, marginalized communities, human rights defenders, victims and witnesses, continue to remain at risk of violence, often resulting in death.

The present report mentions that no independent and accountable mechanism to monitor the registration of First Information Reports (FIRs) exists. The SR also regrets that India has not followed the recommendation that it repeal or at least radically amend AFSPA to ensure that legislation regarding the use of force is brought in line with international human rights law and to remove all legal barriers for the criminal prosecution of members of the armed forces.

The SR’s report mentions that the Government has failed to implement his recommendation that autopsies be carried out in conformity with international standards and that the families of victims be given full and easy access to autopsy reports, as well as death certificates and other relevant documentation to allow them to proceed with the closure of the cases. The SR also regrets that India has not ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol, nor has and Punishment and its Optional Protocol; and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance been ratified. He also reports that India has not implemented his recommendations for the government to consider the ratification of (a) the two Optional Protocols to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (b) the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; (c) the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; and (d) the two Protocols additional to the Geneva Conventions.

The SR has expressed concern that non-State actors resorting to the use of deadly violence have threatened the lives and security of civilians and the security of India and strongly condemns the callous nature of these acts. The State has a duty to protect its people from such acts of violence, but should do so in accordance with international human rights standards. The SR recommended that the State ensure that command and/or superior responsibility be applied for violations by security officials of the right to life, and that the establishment and effective functioning of the Independent Police Complaints Authorities should be made a priority in all states. The SR regrets that, according to the information received, that responsibility remains absent. In his country visit report, the SR recommended that promotions and other types of awards for security officers suspected to have been involved in unlawful killings should not be granted until the facts are fully clarified that “no out-of-turn promotion or instant gallantry rewards shall be bestowed on the concerned officers soon after the occurrence. It must be ensured at all costs that such rewards are given/recommended only when the gallantry of the concerned officers is established beyond doubt”.

In this regard, the SR welcomes the order of the Supreme Court and calls upon the Government to ensure its full and proper implementation. He also notes that police officers who have been suspended upon their arrest in cases of suspected extrajudicial killings and charged with extrajudicial killings have been reinstated in senior positions in the police force by the State. The SR is concerned that this will encourage impunity and may impede the criminal trials against the reinstated officers. The SR also recommended that the Government put in place a mechanism to regularly review and monitor the status of implementation of the directives of the Supreme Court and the NHRC guidelines on arrest, encounter killings, and custodial violence and death. He notes that, so far, no mechanism has been put in place to undertake the review and monitoring as recommended.

The SR had recommended that the State ensure, in addition to the payment of compensation to the victims or their families, that criminal investigations, prosecutions and trials be launched and conducted in a swift, effective and impartial manner in all cases of unlawful killings, irrespective of the status of the perpetrator. The practice of paying compensation to victims or their families has often replaced prosecution. While compensation is crucial in redressing violations, it should never replace the investigation and prosecution of alleged perpetrators. The investigations and prosecutions must be launched in a swift, effective and impartial manner. But this recommendation has not been implemented.

In his country visit report, the SR expressed concern over the increased targeting of human rights defenders, by both State and non-State actors. Journalists and human rights defenders often fall victim to the violence between armed groups and the Government. The SR recommended that the State establish an effective witness and victim protection programme. No programme has yet been created by the State.

In order to strengthen the NHRC, the SR recommended that the State amend section 19 of the Protection of Human Rights Act to provide the Commission with express authorization to investigate members of the armed forces for alleged human rights violations. No steps have been taken by the State to amend section 19.

In his country visit report, the SR recommended that the independence and the functioning of State human rights commissions be reviewed to ensure compliance with the Principles relating to the status of national institutions (Paris Principles). The SR is not aware of any such review under way in the State. There is a need for fully independent bodies to be established to ensure that investigations are properly conducted and perpetrators are held to account.


Special Rapporteur Extrajudicial Killings Follow Up Report on India Recommendations



“Protecting indigenous peoples is protecting the Earth.”

[CSCHR, Solidarity Statement to the WCIP 2014]


On the occasion of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. a High Level Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly, from 22-23 September 2014, New York City, CSCHR transmitted a Solidarity Statement through its delegation led by Mr Jiten Yumnam.

  1. Manipur, an ancient indigenous native state of Asia known by various names in the past – Mekley, Kathé, Kangleipak – now an Indian provincial State located in its North East territories aptly embodies the struggles indigenous peoples worldwide are undergoing today, at the same time tragic and heroic in character.
  2. Like most indigenous peoples territories, from the Amazon and the Andes to North American plains and river basins, from the southern Africa to the Asia and the Pacific, where indigenous peoples and their communities have always lived close to each other and shared their natural inheritance, Manipur is a province with a territory shared by 33 communities indigenous to the region that straddles South and South East Asia.
  3. Throughout the greater part of the modern period of India’s independent history, from the 1950s till today, the indigenous peoples of Manipur comprising broadly of the Meitei, Naga and Kuki-Chin groups face three critical areas of threat that are relentlessly obliterating us, destroying our lands and extinguishing our great cultural heritage.
  4. Protecting indigenous peoples is protecting the Earth. The Government of India must end its denial of the existence of indigenous peoples within its territories, and embrace totally the undertaking in the United Nations to secure the rights of indigenous peoples.


CSCHR Solidarity Statement 22 sep 2014_20 Sept 14_FINAL