One of the worst nightmares of Indian public transportation is in using the toilets in the long-distance trains. Even the so-called upper class trains like the Rajdhani didn’t have half-decent toilets at least when I last traveled. I remember holding it back for the entire journey which sometimes lasted couple of days just so that I didn’t have to use the bathroom. Luckily for guys, it is easier to pee without making much contact with the surrounding so I pity the ladies who have to use those toilets.
One of the strangest sights while traveling by trains is peering down the hole and watching the ground whiz by. You couldn’t help but wonder that who in the hell would have thought about such a simple yet disgusting solution for dumping the waste. This open disposal system only made things worse when the trains stopped at the stations sometimes for a long time. But of course, that didn’t stop the people from using them. And you can imagine the mess and stink on the railway tracks especially for people waiting on the platform after the train has departed.According to the article linked below, more than 300,000 litres of human waste from “open-discharge” toilets is littered across India’s 40,000-mile rail network.
Humra Lalu seems to have made quite an impression in the Railways ministry because after he took over as the Railways Union minister, things have been seemingly looking up, revenue-wise although I’m doubtful how much of the credit can be attributed to Lalu. But given the state of toilets as described above and also probably in light of the recent ‘miracle baby’ born in the toilet, the decision to install ‘green toilets’ in more than 36,000 rail coaches comes as a welcome relief. In the recent budget presentation, Lalu promised that three toilet models – controlled discharge, biodegradable and vacuum-retention toilets – would be fitted on the passenger coaches. These operate in the following manner:
- Controlled discharge model waste from toilets would be discarded onto the tracks only when any train traveled more than 18 miles an hour (solves the problem of littering the tracks at the station).
- Biodegradable toilet converted the litter via a microbial or chemical process into non-corrosive carbon dioxide or chlorinated liquid (prevent stink and protects the environment)
- Vacuum-retention toilets, similar to the ones in aircraft, retains the waste in a storage tank (probably the best solution if disposed off properly when the tanks are emptied out).
This decision was hardly made due to hygienic and sanitation conditions but in fact on economic grounds as the disposed waste wore out the rail tracks and associated fittings faster than they are expected to. They have to be replaced every two years although their expected shelf life is at least 30 years. The retrofitting of the toilets is expected to cost around $1billion but I’m sure they’ll recover this cost through savings in replacement part and most of all, conservation of the environment by preventing monsoon rains washing off all that filth into surrounding rivers and lakes.
I’m glad the Indian Railways are leading the way in making large-scale infrastructural changes to the network even though they are starting from the toilets. Hopefully they’ll also install a baby retrieval system. Perhaps next time I travel long-distance by train although chances of doing so in the age of cheaper air travel is remote, I might just relieve myself before arriving at the destination. Of course, considering that my fellow-passengers have remembered to aim correctly.