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Cleaning up the Tracks

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An NRI doctor tries to make the Railways address the 140,000 tonnes of shit left on the tracks daily

An NRI doctor tries to make the Railways address the 140,000 tonnes of shit left on the tracks daily

An NRI doctor tries to make the Railways address the 140,000 tonnes of shit left on the tracks daily

In the US, Dr George Joseph Themplangad worked on Wall Street as an investment analyst in the health sector. He has since moved to Changanesserry, Kerala, and now has an obsession of a different kind: instead of a financial crisis, he deals with a faecal crisis. 

According to him, every time a rail passenger in India uses the toilet, at least 100 gm of faecal matter is deposited on the tracks. The Railways can transport up to 20 million people daily across India. There are 160,000 toilets in coaches, and even if only 10 per cent of passengers use them, that’s a vast amount of shit. Joseph estimates it to be 140,000 tonnes. He has filed a public interest petition to get the Railways to clean it up. 

 “The human discharge is dropped directly on the tracks, without any treatment to disinfect it,” he says. “It makes its way to water bodies, contaminating it and exposing residents who live nearby to deadly diseases. For example, faecal matter is a carrier of the polio virus and other contagious diseases, which can get into the ground water and affect children. This is a very serious issue which has to be resolved in a time-bound manner.’’

The Indian Railways is trying to address the problem. It is currently carrying out trials on two kinds of toilets that will treat the excreta. One is called a Controlled Toilet Discharge System (CTDS). It’s a simple device. As the train slows down to below 30 kmph, a swinging latch blocks the opening and prevents any discharge on to the tracks and directs it into a tank below the toilet. Presently, 20 such units have been fitted on express trains.  The second toilet is an experiment led by the Defence Research Development Organisation’s Lucknow unit. It uses microbes to treat excreta, resulting in an odourless effluent that is safe when discharged. They tested the toilets using security men on their campus. The results were encouraging. A policy decision to install these toilets on all coaches will take time. When? This is the question Joseph is asking. “It can be done within a year if the Railways want to, but they are going very slow on it,’’ he complains.

Till the day the Railways adopts hygienic practices, Joseph has vowed not to shave. “It has become my mission to chase the Railways into doing this good deed,’’ he says.