Observer Research Foundation Mumbai

Ideas and Action for a Better India

An attainable goal: Better sanitation facilities in Mumbai’s Suburban Railway Network

“Lack of sanitation kills” These are the words of Dr. Margaret Chan of the World Health Organization. Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Mumbai recently conducted a study on the condition of sanitation facilities on Mumbai’s railway network and the information that it gathered is shameful to the performance of the Ministry of Railway for the poor service provision of basic amenities.


ORF Mumbai raises concern over this issue

ORF Mumbai Research Fellow Varsha Raj, who spearheaded this project, highlighted many of the alarming statistics of the condition of sanitation facilities in Mumbai’s suburban rail network: the paltry figure of 355 toilets and 673 urinals on Mumbai’s three railway networks – Western, Central and Harbour – represent the facilities available to Mumbai’s 6.3 million daily commuters.  Roughly calculated, the government provides 1 toilet for every 18000 passengers, and 1 urinal for every 9000 passengers. This is an alarming figure and should be a cause for concern especially for those of us who pay for and use this transportation network.

Upon entering one of these facilities, one is as horrified as would be if sitting alone in a theater for a late night horror film. Maintenance here is of a minimum to non-existent nature. Travelling aboard the suburban railway network every day I carry a scarf just to cover my nose when we come close to many of the stations that smell of urine. The stench of urine and feces at many of the stations can be attributed, among others, to adequate ventilation, inadequate cleaning, electricity, lack of regular water supply that welcome only those users, especially women, in the most desperate of circumstances.

 “The Mumbai suburban railway network is a service used by every one of us – not just the lower class, but even the middle class, the professional class and almost every one of us present today” stated Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni, chairman of ORF Mumbai at a press conference held on June 2, 2010 at the Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh to launch the report. The Mumbai railway network carries one of the largest volume of passengers’ everyday but cannot adequately provide for the sanitation needs of all of its passengers appropriately; it is 12,000 toilet seats short as per international standards. The recommendations put forth by the report and pointed out by Mr. Kulkarni during this event are doable and achievable only if Delhi would devolve this authority to where it belongs – in Mumbai – where people experiencing it on a day-to-day basis know the meaning and the scope of the problem.

A successful PPP model to follow

The report calls for more involvement of the private sector through PPP’s in the provision of these services whereby the private service provider would create and maintain the facilities within the space provided by the railway authority. During the study, it was observed that those stations where the toilet facilities were maintained by external agencies were slightly cleaner. To further illustrate the positive role that PPP’s can play in creating better sanitation facilities for railway passengers, a few of us after the press conference, walked over to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) station to view the pay and use toilet facility set up by Mr. Fuad Lokhandwala’s Fumes International.

Mr. Lokhandwala is providing a commendable service to the city. The cost to use the toilet is Rs 2 and the urinal is Re. 1 but Mr. Lokhandwala said that they do not force payment out of the people. The cost of maintenance of the toilet runs to Rs 15,000 per day and Mr. Lokhandwala stated that he barely recovers Rs 1,500 on any given day. However, he is happy to provide this service to the city to maintain a clean public sanitation facility that every one of us can be proud of. His exemplary model should be replicated and scaled up for all other future PPP ventures when providing public utility services to the city of Mumbai.

User development fee for railways – Dedicated Sanitation and Passenger Amenities Fund

Another workable recommendation of our study, among others, is to create a Dedicated Sanitation and Passenger Amenities Fund. As mentioned in the annual budget of the Central Railway, the amount allocated for the construction of new toilets in 2008-09 was Rs. 14.7 lakhs which is certainly not adequate. The railway officials stated that budget constraints prevent them from providing such amenities to the passengers. Examining the sanitation services at the domestic and international airports in Mumbai, the maintenance of these airports is partly financed by the airport’s user development fee of Rs. 150 for domestic passengers and Rs. 600 for international passenger. In the same way, our report recommends a surcharge of 30 paise per passenger creating a fund of Rs. 63 crore, which is sufficient for improvement of the present facilities.

The last time the suburban railway fares were increased was in the year 2002. At that time, there was a lot of resistance and it was forecasted and observed that initially many people halted usage of these facilities. But this was only temporarily so.  It is eight years since and we are still paying those fares. Resistance, if any, to a future hike can be effectively explained with the benefits that can accrue due to payment into the dedicated sanitation and passenger amenities fund. For our health and for the betterment of our public amenities, a minimal fare hike of 30 paise to pay for these amenities would certainly be acceptable if the appropriate and minimum services were being provided more efficiently. 

Sustained cooperation is the need of the hour

The railway system in Mumbai is the city’s lifeline. Most people spend an hour or more on this public transportation service. A conversation among us within the ORF Mumbai office, especially the women revolved around sheer fear of ever using these facilities and preference given to depriving ourselves of usage of the toilets. Even though we know the cost to our health, we are appalled at the thought of having to step into one of these facilities. It is our right as well as our duty to ensure better health through the efficient delivery of public goods and we all – government bodies, municipal authority, corporations, nongovernmental organizations, civil society groups and individuals – need to cooperate to ensure that we are on the same wavelength in this regard.


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This entry was posted on 23/06/2010 by in Public Health, Urban Renewal and tagged , .
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