Much stink has been raised over the dismal state of toilets in India’s trains. Down the railways’ historic path, solid waste has covered much of its tracks and track record. To the extent that the cost of dumping solid waste onto the tracks — ejection in digestive terms — is over Rs 400 crore for the replacement of the bruised tracks. So, the move to put in place an environment-friendly toilet system is more than welcome.
The Microphor toilet under consideration is a bit like a waste treatment plant. The solid stuff is thrown into a tank, where it is sanitised by an army of enzymes dissolving their way through, sanitising the odoriferous contents and dispensing an unobjectionable end product. This leaves no smelly trail when ejected onto the tracks. The remaining waste stays in the tank and can be junked at convenient intervals. That sounds a neat idea and so, shouldn’t the railways be galvanised into immediate action? Yes, but what is not so easy to digest is the fact that it will cost the railways Rs 8 lakh to equip each coach with this facility. What price sanitation? economists may ask. What a waste, others may say. This means that a whopping Rs 3,600 crore will have to be invested to arm Indian Railways’ 45,000 coaches and protect the tracks from the onslaught of matters scatological.
Of course, the new system does not mean that the toilets themselves will be clean. That is another story and has more to do with a distinct Indian distaste for anything hygienic. But given that the Indian Railways ferry 14 million passengers daily, there really is not a moment to be wasted.