An estimated 700 million people in India defecate out in the open due to lack of access to and poor sanitation facilities. In order to do its part to help curb this, Indian Railways is looking to eliminate direct discharge toilet systems from all passenger coaches by the end of 2022. The ten year plan proposes replacing these direct discharge toilets systems with environmental-friendly bio-toilets.
The technology for the toilets was developed by Indian Railways (IR) in collaboration with Defence Research and Development Organisation (IR-DRDO). In its first phase, IR is looking to fit 2,400 bio toilets in new coaches by the end of 2013, with an outlook to install toilets in over 40,000 coaches of all trains over the course of the plan.
Whereas waste in conventional toiletsis dumped on the tracks below the moving train, waste, as part of the new toilet system, would be directed to a tank with bacterial sludge. The sludge then breaks down all solid waste using an aerobic process to gas and water, which is then released from the carriage.
The unhygienic direct discharge toilets, which earlier used to be the nightmare of adults and place of wonder for kids, fortunately will have to be removed to make way for the new versions. Direct discharge toilets see human excreta discharged from the carriage directly onto the railway tracks as the train drives along. The waste is normally just lefton the tracks posing numerous health risks, including outbreak of diseases to the societies/slums located near the railway track. Human waste is also leading to corrosion of the railways tracks causing crores of rupees in yearly repairs.
The open hole in direct discharge toilets is often used as a substitute garbage bin. Uner the new system, passengers will have to cooperate with the railways in order to contribute to optimal functioning of these toilets - the sachets of tobacco, empty plastic bottles or plastic wrappers normally tossed in the commode will hamper the functioning of the toilets.
Arunendra Kumar, Member (Mechanical), Railway Board in his interview to Business Line said that, the design and technology being used in the bio-toilets are entirely indigenous. “The bacteria being put into six chambers will eat up everything”.
The bio-toilets have also faced some opposition and challenges. Scientists from IIT-Kanpur , an esteemed Indian institution, believe that such toilets are not suitable for trains stating that the 'cold-active' bacteria will not be able to treat waste fast enough to break down the sludge and therefore excreta will directly have to be discharged on railway tracks even after expensive redesigning of the old existing toilets in the coaches.
IR is looking into the problem to help address open defecation in a sustainable manner. The measures taken by IR will contribute in dealing with environmental and health concerns - th major challenge facing the project is teaching passengers how to use the new toilets properly.
Author: Ajay Pal Singh Chabba/ RESET editorial
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