Mumbai: Bio-toilets that were fitted in train coaches amid much fanfare are already stinking, with some passengers complaining that the stench is so foul that it is unbearable for those sitting near the toilets.
According to Central Railway’s (CR) official data, of the 4,000 coaches of the long-distance CR trains, 450 were fitted with bio-toilets. The project had gathered momentum after Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and urged authorities to maintain cleanliness in trains and on tracks. A few coaches in the Rajdhani Express trains of Western Railway (WR) were also provided with bio-toilets.
Unlike traditional train toilets that discharge waste on the tracks, the new system treats the waste inside a tank with the help of bacteria and converts it into harmless gas and water. The Railways had signed MoU with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the project, and the anaerobic bacteria were procured from Antarctica.
Commuters, however, are far from impressed. Nitin Parmar, secretary of Karjat Railway Passenger Association, said, “In most trains with bio-toilets, the stench is unbearable – not only near the toilet but also within the coaches. This is not a one-off thing. I have been observing this often. Biotoilets have been fitted in random coaches, and they all have this foul smell. Passengers sitting near the door have to keep their noses covered all the time. The activist travels between Mumbai and Pune regularly and has done a survey of trains with bio-toilets.
In fact, a maintenance worker also complained about the unbearable stench. “The technology is good but it is not being maintained the way it should be. There are a lot of processes to maintain but train coaches cannot be practically detained for such a long time as they are always scheduled for runs. If clean toilets are giving out foul smell, there must be something wrong,” he added, on the condition of anonymity.
Another staffer said, “If any foul smell is detected after the removal of waste and cleaning of the toilet, the tank has to be topped up with nearly 15 litres of bacteria. A check is conducted after a week and samples are then sent for lab testing.”
A former member of the national railway passenger committee, Shailesh Goyal, said, “Bio-toilets are not a practical idea for trains. At many WR stations, the train is back on track within two hours. There is no time to clean the toilets. Also, bio-toilets require hi-end mechanism and a dedicated staff to keep them clean.”
Subhash Gupta, a member of the divisional railway users consultative committee, said he will raise the issue at the official railway forum next week.
While railway officials refused to speak on record, a senior official said, “Not only are all new coaches to be fitted with bio-toilets but the workshops are being instructed to fit in bio-toilets in old trains, taken up for maintenance, as well.” Another staffer said the biggest problem were the commuters themselves. “Many bio-toilets have become choked because passengers dump anything from water bottles to gutkha pouches and polythene in them. The bio-digester bins have turned into garbage bins. We will intensify awareness campaigns to avoid this,” said an official.