After the grime and sweat of the dusty Indian summer, the intermittent showers and the smell of wet, newly-drenched soil rising from the earth is enough to put wide smiles on the face of every parched Mumbaikar. But the ruined train schedules that go hand in hand with every monsoon is enough to wipe the smiles right off the very same faces.
This problem, which throws the lives of lakhs in the city off gear, can be attributed to treacherous mounds of domestic garbage, dumped indiscriminately along the tracks. At many stretches along the main and harbour lines, garbage, along with other debris and muck, lies brazenly along the tracks, and are washed out into the tracks with rainwater, choking the lines and forcing water to stagnate, crippling the city’s lifeline. Garbage — ranging from plastic covers, to wet and dry domestic refuse — is usually dumped on the tracks by slum dwellers squatting next to the tracks.
“Slum dwellers often dump garbage and other unwanted matter on the tracks and the adjoining narrow gutters. Also, the railway passengers fling garbage and plastic packets from the trains onto the tracks, which then creates problems during rains,” said a railway official. MiD DAY ventured out to take stock of the problem and found alarmingly high heaps of muck and garbage lying near the tracks at Borivli, Andheri, Jogeshwari, Mahim stations. Scattered garbage was seen at other spots along the 60-km long Churchgate-Virar stretch.
The problem persists on the Western Railway (WR) line, even though authorities claim that they have already desilted 6,000 cubic metres of silt and other waste from the tracks and are in the process of disposing of what has been dug out. “The muck and waste is being collected in gunny bags and dumped at our yard in Jogeshwari. Cleaning and desilting of 43 culverts is underway,” said Nitin David, spokesperson, WR.
On the Central Railway (CR) network — both the main and harbour lines — garbage was seen lying along the tracks at the Sion-Kurla stretch, Mankhurd, Wadala, GTB Nagar and Parel. The drains passing along the tracks didn’t look like they had been cleaned properly either. “We have cleaned over 60 culverts and collected 1,20,00 gunny bags of muck and garbage on the Central line. Yet, the heavy rains, coupled with high tides always disrupt train services for at least four days in the season,” said another rail official.
Subhash Gupta, rail activist and member of the National Railway Users Consultative Committee, said, “Every agency claims that they have completed cleaning work. We will come to know the truth in the coming days.” In tracks located at low-lying areas, rainwater inevitably flows onto the tracks from the surrounding regions — these locations include Sandhurst Road, Sion-Kurla, Marine Lines, Charni Road, Mahim, Nalasopara-Virar, Wadala, Mulund and Chunabhatti.
At present, special late night local trains are being operated to carry collected muck and garbage for dumping on empty railway land. Over a period of time, these open spaces have dwindled, owing to concretisation of roads and encroachments. While the CR plans to install over 35 pumps, WR will be installing 52 pumps on their respective suburban corridors. There are around 40 open culverts on CR’s main line, 35 on the harbour line, and 43 on WR. The authorities also claim to have raised the level of the tracks in order to prevent water logging during high tides.
Blaming the municipality for part of the problem, V Malegaonkar, chief PRO, CR, said, “We have to depend on the drainage system of the city at large for removing excess water from tracks, and so require cooperation from the BMC. The level of the roads is higher than the tracks parallel to them, so rail tracks are forced to act as drainage channels.”