GST might delay installation of bio-toilets in trains
Such toilets are integral to modernisation plans of the country’s largest public transporter, which carries more than 23 million passengers every day.india Updated: Jul 08, 2017 18:49 IST
The goods and services tax (GST) regime beginning next month could delay the railways’ efforts to introduce airplane-style bio-toilets in all trains by 2019, as product manufacturers will be charged more than the current rate.
Such toilets are integral to modernisation plans of the country’s largest public transporter, which carries more than 23 million passengers every day, a number equal to the population of Australia.
Against 57 such lavatories fitted in 31 coaches in 2010-11, the number climbed last year to 69,322 in 19,770 coaches. But the task is far from complete and the GST could complicate the project.
“A GST of 18% has been proposed on the bio-toilet industry. The tax rate will be higher than what is currently being charged from manufacturers by the Indian Railways (12.5%). Because of this many units will be forced out of business,” said Lokendra Singh, chairman of the DRDO Bio Digester Manufacturers Association.
The eco-friendly toilets in trains, fitted with bio-digesters designed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), were given priority after the NDA government took power in 2014.
The government launched a countrywide cleanliness drive, called Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which discourages people to defecate in the open.
But coaches of most of the 12,000 passenger trains that the railways run have lavatories that flush down human waste to the tracks below, causing rail corrosion and groundwater contamination.
The railways have a 65,000-km network of tracks and thousands of kilolitres of fecal matter fall on it each day.
According to Singh, the new tax structure will hit the fledgling bio-toilets industry.
People in the business pointed out that the increased tax will offset the gains from a subsidy of Rs 12,000 that the Union government provides to citizens willing to construct toilets.
“When the GST comes in place, this subsidy will amount to giving with one hand and taking from the other,” said Adhir Khanna of the Alfa Systems & Services.
The government wants every home and school to have access to a toilet by 2019, in time for the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth. Funds were allocated and awareness campaigns launched, but the mission allegedly hasn’t progressed at the desired pace.
The government promised in 2014 a fund of Rs 1.96 lakh crore to build 130 million toilets, but only Rs 5,000 crore was given and 9.5 million toilets were built till October next year.
“Non government organizations as well as the corporate are keen to partner with the Swachh Bharat or Amrut campaigns, but the required support from the government has not been forthcoming,” said Abhay Khanna of Suvidha Foundation, a voluntary organisation.
Roughly 600 million Indians defecate in the open.
“Yet, the country spends 260 times more on food as compared to sanitation. Lack of sanitation is costing India an estimated 6.4% of the GDP, while 767 people are reported to die each day from diarrheal diseases caused by poor sanitation,” a World Bank report says.