Over the last four years, India has witnessed the world’s largest behaviour change programme, Swachh Bharat Mission, unfold successfully. Sanitation coverage in the country has gone up from 38 per cent in 2014 to 83 per cent in 2018. The Indian Railways appears to have kept pace with this development.
The ‘Swachh Rail Swachh Bharat Cleanliness Report 2018’, released earlier this year, suggests that there has been a sharp improvement in cleanliness standards across the A1 (stations with an annual passenger revenue of over Rs 50 crore) and A (passenger revenue between Rs 6 crore and Rs 50 crore) categories of stations of the Indian Railways.
The average cleanliness score of these stations has grown by 17.6 per cent in 2018. Compared to 2017, a 9 per cent improvement has been recorded in top 100 stations, 14 per cent in the next 100, 20 per cent in 201-300, and 31 per cent in 301-407 stations.
The report also shows that 10 of the 16 zones of the Railways have recorded 10-20 per cent improvement – four zones have improved by more than 20 per cent and two have shown around 10 per cent improvement in cleanliness as compared to 2017.
How the Railways got here
1) Installation of bio-toilets on trains
The Indian Railways started installing bio-toilets on trains in January 2011, when 57 of these were installed on the Gwalior-Varanasi Bundelkhand Express. Since then, the Railways has provided about 125,000 bio-toilets in its coaches. This covers about 60 per cent of the coaching fleet of the Indian Railways.
There has been a sharp increase in the installation of bio-toilets under the National Democratic Alliance government. During 2017-18, the Railways has installed the most number of bio-toilets in coaches, which is 40 per cent higher than the target of 40,000 bio-toilets and 64 per cent higher than the fitment of 34,134 bio-toilets in 2016-17.
This is a significant step because the government estimates that 4,000 million tonnes of human waste is discharged from train coaches every day. With the installation of bio-toilets in 60 per cent of the coaches, the discharge of human waste into the open has decreased.
In bio-toilets, which are fitted below the coach floor underneath the lavatories, human waste is converted by anaerobic bacteria into water and small amounts of gases. While the gases escape, water is discharged on the tracks after chlorination. Therefore, human waste does not fall on the railway track.
The Railways is also testing airline-like bio-vacuum toilets to reduce water consumption. These toilets are under trial in around 500 coaches. If successful, the Railways plans to go big on vacuum toilets.
2) Increasing the budget for cleaning service contracts
The Railways has devolved financial powers to Divisional Railway Managers, empowering them to enter into long-term service contracts for cleaning of stations and trains of up to 100 crore. Earlier, this amount was limited to Rs 20 crore.
3) Greater use of machines for cleaning
The Railways is employing integrated machine cleaning at 520 of its stations and plans to extend this to 60 more by March 2019. It has also started the use of automated rail-mounted machines for clearing of muck. Equipped with a powerful vacuum cleaner, these machines are capable of cleaning the areas alongside the track.
4) Using independent surveys to improve cleanliness
The Railways is roping in third parties to carry out independent surveys on the status of cleanliness at stations and on the trains. Based on one such survey undertaken by the Quality Council of India (QCI) and user feedback, the Railways has ranked the A and A1 stations across India. The Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation had also carried out a survey, which involved talking to people at stations.
The Railways analyses results using three parameters: evaluation of the process of cleaning vehicle parking, main entry area, main platforms, waiting rooms (33.33 per cent), direct observation by QCI assessors (33.33 per cent), and passenger feedback (33.33 per cent). According to the Railways’ Swachhta portal, an average score of 195.7 out of 333.3 has been achieved under process evaluation, 204.5 under direct observation, and 240.6 under passenger feedback.
The Railways has set up a 24x7 control room so as to make sure that objectivity and consistency is maintained during the survey.
5) More housekeeping on trains
The Indian Railways has increased the number of trains with onboard housekeeping and on-demand ‘Clean My Coach’ services. Onboard housekeeping services are now available in over 1,003 pairs of trains (March 2018), growing almost two and a half times from 416 pairs in 2014 under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government.
Interestingly, the Railways has also introduced a new system of housekeeping contracts. Under the new arrangement, payments to housekeeping contractors will depend on the ratings given to them by passengers.
The on-demand ‘Clean My Coach’ service is being provided in nearly 970 pairs of long-distance trains having on-board housekeeping service.
Among other things, the Railways is making various sections of rail tracks free of human waste discharge. At least six sections commissioned during 2016-17 and 21 sections during 2017-18 were designated as ‘Green Train Corridors’. Steps are also being taken to beautify railway stations of religious, cultural, and historical importance, such as Madhubani and Bhopal, by roping in local artists.
The Indian Railways truly appears to be in the midst of a Swachhata revolution.
Prakhar Gupta is a senior editor at Swarajya. He tweets @prakharkgupta.
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