Rohidas Apte, 28, dressed in a grimy blue uniform, puts on his protective gloves as he kneels down to scrub off yet another paan stain on a platform at Dadar (West) station. Apte is one of the 25 employees a contractor, who has been awarded the tender to keep the station clean.
“My shift begins at two in the afternoon and I begin my duty by clearing all the dustbins. We then sit down to scrub out all the gutka and paan stains on the platforms.” said Apte.
A board beside the station master’s office displays the cleaning crew’s shift, which lasts for eight hours a day. But Apte said he never leaves before midnight. “Our work never stops. Passengers don’t care that they are dirtying the platforms. But if we don’t do it, our families will sleep hungry,” he said.
The cleaning crew then manually removes the garbage accumulated on the track through the day.
According to the Rail Theka Mazdoor Union, there are more than 5,500 cleaners on Central Railway (CR) and 7,500 on Western Railway (WR). Besides, there are five contractors, who have been tasked with handling the cleaning at CR stations. On WR, officials said there are at least 15 contractors.
Despite this, railway stations are anything but clean and the buck cleaners say must stop at the commuters. “We are paid only Rs 200 a day even though the minimum wage rate is Rs 330. How can they do this to us,” asked Savita Singh (name changed on request) who has been part of the Dadar (East) station cleaning crew for the past eight years.
Contractors are another reason weak link in the cleanliness chain because they are rarely held accountable. “Earlier, railway cleaners were employed under the Central government, but now the contracts for major stations are given to private organisations and NGOs,” said Sharat Chandrayan, chief PRO, WR.
Officials admit there are no set norms to appraise how the contractors are doing their work. And railways are lax about imposing fines for littering.