Imagine what this toilet does to Mumbaikars everyday. Yuck!

Survey reveals suburban trains of the megapolis have despicable sanitation


Geetanjali Minhas | June 3, 2010

ORF chairman Sudheendra Kulkarni releasing the report
ORF chairman Sudheendra Kulkarni releasing the report

What if a Mumbai woman going from her home near Virar or Panvel to office near Churchgate wants to use a toilet? She has no options: she will have to grin and bear, and wait till she reaches office for relief.

That's because the railways have not built even one-tenth of the toilets/urinals needed for 63 lakh people they ferry every day.

This fact is more serious than we think: it is not just a matter of public convenience, it can also lead to health risks.

A survey by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) on sanitation facilities and the state of cleanliness at all of Mumbai’s 109 suburban railway stations has revealed a shameful shortage and pathetic maintenance of toilets and urinals on most stations on the Central, Western and Harbour lines.

The entire suburban railway network – from Churchgate to Dahanu Road on Western Railway; from CST to Kasara- Khapoli on Central Railway and from CST to Panvel on the Harbour line – has a provision of only 355 toilet seats and 673 urinals, according to the survey carried out by the Observer Research Foundation in December 2009 and January 2010.

Going by the standards of the best railway networks in the US, the UK and China, the Mumbai suburban rail network should have 12,600 toilet seats to serve the needs of its commuters.

ORF’s survey of 81 stations on the Central Railway shows there were 250 toilets and 398 urinals. Going by the railways' own yardstick, this means a shortfall of 1,605 toilets and 1,457 urinals. All stations on suburban system are required to have an absolute minimum of two toilets and four urinals.

A survey of the 28 Western Railway stations revealed that there were 105 toilets and 257 urinals, showing a shortfall of 249 toilets and 79 urinals according to its own benchmark.

Moreover, the study reveals, only 17 percent of the total number of toilets on the suburban railway network are allocated for women. As many as 93 percent of the toilets that are ‘closed’ or ‘out of use’ are those intended for women.

This state of affairs is mainly due to the lack of budgeting. In 2006-07, the total annual capital expenditure on passenger amenities on the Western Railway suburban network was Rs 1.47 crore. Not a single penny out of this was spent on improving sanitation. Upon inquiry it was revealed that no separate head of accounting was maintained for construction of toilets.

An RTI query has revealed that the Central Railway's total annual budget for constructing new toilets at its 73 suburban stations in 2008-09 was a paltry Rs 14 lakh! This, when the Indian Railways Vision 2020 document talks of creating world-class railway stations.

The survey report says that in 2007, the Comptroller and Auditor General  made observations and recommendations that hold true even today in the context of sanitation and cleanliness on the Mumbai Suburban Rail  Network. The CAG  identified lack of appropriate and sustained monitoring, supervision and reporting processes as key deficiencies within the railways that are holding up the delivery of effective cleanliness.

With sanitation, maintenance is as important as the initial installation and development of infrastructure. Many good guidelines provided by the railway ministry are not  specific about the  process of implementation hence the manner in which they are pursued is sub-optimal. Lack of coordination identified by the CAG  appears to be symptomatic of large bureaucracies where protocol supersedes performance  outcome with no accountability fixed at any level.

“Railways  would do well to pay more attention to should reducing  inefficient bureaucratic processes and to  empower officers at the ground level – and also empower the citizen's groups – to tackle problems proactively. At the same time, non-performing personnel must be penalised,” says the ORF  report. 

After the 26/11 terrorist attack, a large number of dustbins were removed for security reasons. However, an appropriate system of waste disposal does not appear to have been made available in the absence of dustbins on platforms, says the report.

As for the health risk, Dr Kamaxi Bhate, associate professor, department of preventive and social medicine, KEM  Hospital and  GS  Medical College, Mumbai, says: “Lack of  access to toilets at railway stations and in public places in general is one of the main reasons for high levels of urinary tract  infections (UTI) among female commuters in Mumbai.

“Regular female commuters avoid drinking water or fluids to reduce the need to urinate. Repeated bouts of UTI  make women vulnerable to anemia and urinary  stones. Compared with men, women are more prone to UTI, the differential ratio being 6:1,” Bhate adds.

The demand for toilets and sanitation far exceeds the supply, both in terms of quality and quantity. The onus of responsibility lies not only on the railways, but also on the Maharashtra government,  respective municipal corporations, private service providers and the commuters themselves, the report notes. 

“We have decided to take our report to the central government, the railways ministry, all members of the Railway  Board, officers of the Mumbai Western and Central Railways, the chief minister of Maharshtra, MLAs, corporators and other elected representatives,” said Sudheendra Kulkarni, chairman, Observer Research Foundation.

Stinkers: Here is what ORF survey found

* The condition of toilets, station concourses and platform at most places is dirty, often with paan stained platform, tracks, walls, posts and even seating areas.

* Urinals are stained or show signs of corrosion from use and inadequate cleaning.

* A number of toilets and urinals are smelly due to poor ventilation and dirty for lack of regular municipal water supply.

* A few toilets like those at Borivali were completely un-usable.

*  Some ladies toilets (for example, at Kurla and Parel) did not even have a door.

* There are no toilets for specifically designed physically disabled users with inappropriate access etc.

* 17 percent of the existing ladies toilets are closed (16 out of 58 on WR and 17 out of 135 on CR, excluding those destroyed for re-construction).

* Many station masters have said they need more cleaning staff for maintenance.

* Standards of cleanliness vary greatly between stations. This is because the general recommendations provided by the railways are subject to interpretation and monitoring by the individual station managers.

* On average, stations with toilets maintained by external agencies were observed to be slightly cleaner.

* As per Central Railway records, there is a total shortfall of 496 water taps on its suburban rail network. There is a demand for more.

* A number of stations have no functional drinking water facilities available. They include Ghatkopar, Vidyavihar,  Kanjurmarg,  Kalwa, Lower Kopar, Dombivali, Dativali, Navade Road, Reay Road, Sewri, GTB  Nagar, Chunabhatti, Goregaon,  Santacruz,  Elphinstone Raod, Dadar,  Mumbai Central and Grant Road amongst others.

* Most water fountains constructed by philanthropic trusts and NGOs have been under-utilised and poorly maintained, frequently stained with paan or used to dispose empty gutkha packets.

* Charitable organisations and NGOs complain that the railways provide no protection from vandals for water fountains built by them. This results in theft or damage of the taps.

* There are very few dustbins (if any) are available at some stations like Currey Road, Kurla, Nahur, Mumbra, Diva, Tilak Nagar, Govandi, Ambivali, Shelu, Dativali, Nilaje, Navade Road, Lower Kopar, Churchgate, Grant Road, Santacruz, Vile Parle, Jogeshwari, Kandivali, Mahalaxmi , Malad and Vasai Road.

ORF recommendations

* Changes in the Indian Railways policy on sanitation so that the general managers (GMs) and divisional  managers ( DRMs) in Central Railway and Western Railway are suitably empowered to take decisions appropriate to meet Mumbai’s needs.

* A ‘Dedicated Sanitation and Passanger Amenities Fund’ to finance sanitation and other passenger amenities. “With 63 lakh commuters using the suburban system daily, a surcharge of only 30 paise  per passenger per day (Rs 100 per passanger per year) would create  a fund of Rs. 63 crore, which is sufficient to bring about a marked improvement.”

* Redesigning of railway stations to make space for new toilets and urinals  in a more  aesthetic and functional manner.

* Special Commissioners for Passenger Amenities at both Central Railway and Western railway.

* Expand the use of the PPP model for attracting better private players with a track record of providing superior sanitation services with suitable incentives like advertising revenue, user charges, service contracts etc.

* Greater encouragement for NGOs in the sanitation sector,  CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities and community participation to engage and empower locals.

* Setting higher benchmarks for water conservation; encouraging stations to encourage the concept of reduce, re-use  and recycle- in respect of water and solid waste management.

* Using innovative technologies like bio-sanitizers to aid waterless cleaning, etc.

* Investing resources in passenger education for every station to increase accountability, transparency and local monitoring through cooperation.



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