Ideas and Action for a Better India
Release of a study by the Observer Research Foundation Mumbai
A matter of Human Dignity
Sanitation on Mumbai’s Suburban Railways
ORF urges urgent action to improve the appalling state of sanitation and cleanliness in the Lifeline of Mumbai; Demands facilities comparable to those at airports
In a first-of-its-kind study of sanitation facilities and the state of cleanliness at all of Mumbai’s 109 suburban railway stations, the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Mumbai, a non-partisan public policy think tank, has revealed shocking shortfalls in this most basic commuter amenity. The survey-based study has unmasked the wretched condition of toilets and urinals in most of the stations on Central, Western and Harbour lines, which people – especially women commuters – are often forced to avoid due the terrible state of neglect of these amenities.
Mumbai’s suburban rail network, which carries 6.3 million commuters every day, is not only the city’s lifeline but also the city’s pride. The Central and Western Railways deserve praise for running the suburban service, against several odds, with a high degree of punctuality and safety. But where they fall short is in the, provision of adequate number of clean sanitation facilities which do not seem to be a priority for the railway authorities. The entire suburban railway network – from Churchgate to Dahanu Road on Western Railway; from CST to Kasara-Khopoli on Central Railway; and from CST to Panvel on the Harbour Line – has a provision of only 355 toilet seats and 673 urinals. Comparing this to standards adhered to in the best suburban railway networks in USA, the UK and even China, the Mumbai Suburban Rail Network should have 12,600 toilet seats to serve the needs of its commuters. Thus, the shortfall is more than 12,000 toilet seats!
As highlighted by the ORF study, the situation in qualitative terms is even worse. The standard of cleanliness and maintenance at most railway toilets and urinals is deplorable, so much so that the facilities are used only by those who are desperate. Most regular commuters, especially women commuters, go to great lengths to avoid using them altogether, choosing in the process to inflict much suffering on themselves. For women, this means not drinking water before traveling, which puts their health at risk. According to Dr. Kamaxi Bhate, Associate Professor at the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, KEM Hospital, lack of access to clean toilets and urinals at Mumbai’s railway stations is one of the main reasons for high levels of urinary tract infections (UTI) among female train commuters. “This is the reason for UTI being more common among women than men, the differential ratio of incidence being 6:1. Repeated bouts of UTI make women vulnerable to anaemia and urinary stones.”
The ORF survey revealed that only “17% of the total number of toilets at suburban stations are meant for women.” Worse still, “93% of the toilets that were found to be ‘closed’ or ‘out of use’ are those intended for women.”
Apart from the obvious lack of political will, underinvestment by the Indian Railways is one of the main reasons for the pathetic state of sanitation and cleanliness. The ORF study has revealed that the annual sanitation budget for the construction of new toilets at 73 Central Railway stations in 2008-09 was a paltry Rs. 14 lakh! Similarly, the total annual capital expenditure on passenger amenities on the Western Railway suburban network in 2006-07 was Rs. 1.47 crore, with not a single penny spent on improving sanitation. Such low investment amounts to gross injustice towards Mumbai, which unfortunately has gone unprotected by the political parties and elected representatives in the city. ORF demands that sanitation facilities at railway stations should be comparable to those at airports, which have undergone major improvement in recent years. According to Sudheendra Kulkarni, chairman of ORF Mumbai, “Why should there be this kind of ‘caste discrimination’ between air and train passengers?”
Furthermore, the ORF study also highlights that a staggering 20,000 commuters died on Mumbai’s railway tracks in the last five years — nearly ten commuters die each day. It states, “Although there are several other reasons for this shocking and disgraceful tragedy in Mumbai that goes on year after year, a significant number of those killed or injured are slum dwellers who lack community toilets and hence use railway tracks to relieve themselves.”
ORF’s recommendations for improving the situation:
ORF’s study lays strong emphasis on the need for better cooperation and coordination between the Railway authorities, the State Government and Municipal Corporations in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region to improve sanitation and other passenger amenities to world-class levels.
Download the report: ‘A matter of Human Dignity – Sanitation on Mumbai’s Suburban Railways’