Swachh Bharat? Toilets double up as pantries in Kerala trains

  • Ramesh Babu, Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
  • Updated: Nov 04, 2014 18:46 IST

It seems the Indian Railways, one of the largest rail networks in the world, is yet to respond to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious Swachh Bharat campaign.

In Kerala Express, a long-distance and prestigious train, ice meant to refrigerate soft drinks and meat is being kept in toilets.

Malayalam news channel 'Mathrubhumi' has come out with some shocking video footage.

In the New Delhi-bound Kerala Express, an Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) worker is seen cutting an ice block just outside a toilet. When a passenger turns up, he lets her to go in but asks her not to disturb the ice strewn around the water closet. When asked, he tells the passenger that the ice is meant to keep soft drinks cold and preserve meat items.

There are more instances - in many long-distance trains, the water used for cooking and toilets is sourced from the same tap. Usually at the originating point of a train a couple of pop-up water cans are stored but once they are exhausted workers fill water from the normal pipes that is untreated.


An IRCTC worker cutting ice blocks just outside the toilet of one of the compartments of Kerala Express. Once cut, ice splinters were later taken to the pantry bathroom to store soft drinks and meat products. (Video grab courtesy: Mathrubhumi News)

At least two dozen cases of food poisoning were reported by passengers of trains managed by the Southern Railway in last couple of months alone. Last year, 50 passengers of Ajmer-Ernakulam Marusagar Express were hospitalised in Kasargode (north Kerala) after severe food poisoning.

"I boarded the Hapa-Tirunelveli Express last week. The attendant was stinking. When I asked him, he complained that he has not even had the time to go to the toilet for last three days because of work load, leave alone a proper bath," said M Mahesh, an IT executive and a regular passenger.

IRCTC says that its catering staff wears uniforms, name slips, head covers and gloves but it often remains only on paper.


(Video grab courtesy: Mathrubhumi News)

"Such instances are not new. When I filed a case against the railway after it converted a toilet into a kitchen in Thiruvananthapuram-Kozhikode Jan Shatabdi I was given a written undertaking that it will take immediate steps to maintain hygiene. Later, I withdrew the case but things are going from bad to worse," said RTI activist D Binu, who has taken up a number of such complaints.

Interestingly, some start-up firms and caterers have started serving hot food on call but the railways is not interested in promoting it, forcing passengers to buy poor quality platform and pantry-made food.

"It is high time for the railways to heed the PM's call. Even AC compartments are rat and fly-infested. And many bathrooms do not get water," said Girish, another traveller.


(Video grab courtesy: Mathrubhumi News)

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