Until a year ago, a visit to an Indian railway station was an assault on one’s senses. Human excrement, urine and rotting garbage on tracks and platforms — the filth was almost synonymous with the world’s largest public transport network. That image is changing slowly.
A quiet but pleasant change has taken place in less than a year of Swachh Bharat, a nationwide cleanliness drive launched by the Narendra Modi government soon after it came to power in May 2014. Many passengers said the condition of railway stations has improved, although the quality of railway food and compartments remain as bad as ever.
So what has changed inside the railway stations? The approach to cleanliness — like engaging a professional agency to keep the premises spic and span round-the-clock. That’s what Thiruvananthapuram station did, which proved instrumental in making the Kerala capital one of the cleanest cities in the country. Here’s a look at how some of the stations have cracked the whip on litterbugs.
1. Sealdah, Kolkata
West Bengal’s Sealdah and Howrah stations are among the busiest in the country, perhaps even Asia. The Sealdah station handles around 1,000 trains a day with a passenger footfall of about 17 lakh. The station compound is way cleaner than before, and efforts are being made to clean the platforms and the areas near the ticketing counters and in front of food stalls.
“They have removed several vendors. These vendors used to litter food waste throughout the platforms. Now, I see staff engaged in cleaning work at some part of the station or the other,” says Suresh Chandra Banerjee, a teacher who commutes between Sealdah and New Barrackpore every day.
And like Howrah, the Sealdah passengers too have the same grouse about stinking toilets. Railway officials said they are well aware of the problems inside the toilets of the station.
“Cleaning toilets at regular intervals is very much on our radar. We will soon initiate a drive targeting dirty toilets,” said a railway official at the station.
Passengers: 17 lakh
Fines collected (July 2015): Rs 4,22,900
Fines collected (July 2014): Rs 56,488
2. Howrah, Kolkata
Across the Hooghly river in Kolkata, the country’s oldest station Howrah manages around 1,600 trains and about 27 lakh commuters from its 23 platforms.
Given the volume of traffic and travellers, the station is relatively tidy and a whiff of disinfectant is a far cry from the unhygienic conditions mentioned in the 2013 CAG report on Howrah station.
Thanks to the vigorous cleanliness drives by Eastern Railway officials and caretakers of the Howrah and Sealdah stations, washrooms, platforms and the entire compound remain neat and clean. “We had initiated massive cleanliness drives as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission. The drive is not limited to cleaning the station premises. We detain passengers and impose fines for littering,” said a railway official.
Regular passengers claim that much has improved externally, but given the volume of passengers, the toilets need to be cleaned more frequently.
Passengers: 27 lakh
Fines collected (July 2015): Rs 5,23,200
Fines collected (July 2014): Rs 1,05,724
3. Churchgate, Mumbai
A targeted cleanliness drive launched in Mumbai’s lifeline failed to yield the desired results. The city’s Central and Western Railway stations together cater to 75 lakh suburban commuters, who suffer the twin blows of dirty stations and travelling in crammed coaches.
In mid-2014, following directives from the Prime Minister’s Office, railway officials cleaned up all the stations — platforms, toilets, waiting areas, tracks and yards. A year later, it’s all back to square one, with stinking toilets and shabby platforms.
“This means the contractors working for the railways are not doing their job and they should be supervised properly,” said Kailash Verma, member of the Divisional Railway Users Consultative Committee (DRUCC).
Many passengers have been caught and fined Rs 500 for littering but such drives, too, were few and far between. “Awareness among passengers has increased and littering has reduced,” a Central Railway official said.
Passengers: 5 lakh
Fines collected (June 2015): Rs 13,000
Fines collected (June 2014): Rs 9,300
4. Charbagh, Lucknow
In the Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow, the city’s busiest station Charbagh is getting all the attention. Swachh Bharat is still to reach smaller stations such as Aishbagh, Gomti Nagar and City Station.
At Charbagh, the changes are palpable and the happiest man there is food vendor Rajesh Kumar on platform number 6, whose vend is near a garbage dump. “Cleanliness has pushed my sales. Passengers used to avoid buying food from my stall because of the stench from the garbage dump,” he said, thanking the Swachh Bharat drive.
As with most stations that HT halted for a sneak peek, the common refrain here too was about the poor civic sense of people. “The mindset of commuters should change. They should learn to treat railways as their own. People never hesitate to litter platforms. We are doing our job but it’s also their duty to keep the platforms clean,” a sweeper in Lucknow summed it up.
Passengers: 1.25 lakh
Fines collected (June 2015): Rs 22,900
People fined for littering and urinating: 345
Down south in the Tamil Nadu capital, passengers are more cooperative. Chennai Central, the heritage landmark, has been known for its cleanliness even before Swachh Bharat kicked in. The initiative has only made it better.
With 370 trains, more than 4 lakh passengers and between 9 and 12 tonnes of garbage every day, the pressure on facilities and janitors is huge. “The garbage is collected and sent to the dumping ground three times a day,” a station official said.
Passengers: 4 lakh
Fines collected per month: Rs 30,000 (approx)
Average five people fined everyday for littering
6. Ludhiana, Punjab
Hefty fines and strict vigil have helped Ludhiana station in Punjab wear a clean look. But the condition of toilets, water sinks and spit-stained walls present a sorry picture for one of the busiest railway stations in northern India.
“It is not possible to keep stations clean unless passengers, vendors and those using the premises share responsibility,” says station superintendent Yashwant Singh.
Station officials claim that teams of RPF personnel and ticket collectors have been formed to impose fines ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 500 on litterbugs. So while the platforms and tracks are relatively cleaner, the station is still to come to grips with the stench within its toilets, and the stinking wash basins.
Fines collected (Jan-July 2015): Rs 1,76,000
Fines collected (Jan-July 2014): Rs 45,200
7. Bhubaneswar, Odisha
A few hundred miles up along the east coast from Chennai, Bhubaneswar railway station is much smaller compared to Chennai Central. It has become cleaner because of Swachh Bharat, though there is enough room for improvement.
“We had started a cleanliness drive in the station long ago. After the Swachh Bharat campaign, the drive has become more intense,” said JP Mishra, the East Coast Railway chief public relations officer. “The platforms have more dustbins and station floors are mopped more frequently.”
The station handles 156 trains and a footfall of 1 lakh passengers daily. About 200 cubic feet of garbage is collected daily from the station area.
Passengers: 1 lakh
Fines collected (June 2015): Rs 70,900
Fines collected (June 2014): Rs 37,000