The first time I visited a ladies toilet at a Mumbai railway station, I confess, I almost threw up. That was over 20 years ago. Recently I had an opportunity to visit a railway station toilet again and while I did not get sick, the toilet was as bleak as I remember it from 20 years ago. I did, however, almost faint because I was holding my breath to block out the stench.
The state of sanitation on the Mumbai suburban railway network seems to remain stagnant without any progress despite repeated promises from successive governments over the years. The only notable progress has been in the advertising overload that comes equipped with flashy new-age LED indicators.
One would assume that with the added advertising revenue the railways would have looked at the despicable state of the sanitation facilities at the stations especially since we call our railways the lifeline of the city. The infrastructure is also in a bad condition in general, the platforms are in terrible shape, the toilets stink, the women’s toilets being the worst as coupled with the stink there are inoperative stalls, no sewerage systems, lack of privacy and an overall lack of hygiene, cleanliness and ventilation.
Who do we hold responsible for the mess it currently is in – the railway authorities, the state bureaucracy, the commuters or all of the above?
The Observer Research Foundation (ORF) conducted a study in 2010 about sanitation in Mumbai’s suburban railway network and found that there are only a mere 355 toilet seats and 673 urinals. This seems far too small a number for Mumbai’s railways, which transports more than 7.5 million commuters on a daily basis. It was additionally noted that out of the 109 stations studied, 17 suburban railway stations did not have any toilet facilities for women, which is pitiable. Five years hence I am very sure that even today, these numbers are still valid. It is particularly astonishing that this is the state of affairs even after the railway ministry recommendation that a minimum of 2,000 toilets and urinals be constructed along the western and central railway corridors of the city.
The lack of toilets for women is possibly the most concerning issue at hand especially because even major hubs such as Marine Lines, Lower Parel and Andheri also lack toilet facilities for women. In fact, today Andheri is in worse shape than it has ever been despite the extensive construction and renovation work being carried on there. In addition there have been reports of nefarious activities being carried out in many of the ladies toilets that are functioning including reports of drug addicts misusing the ladies toilet at Borivali station at night.
Mumbai’s railways are supposed to be one of the busiest rapid transit systems in the world and yet its toilets and urinals are ill equipped and far below acceptable hygiene levels. From the looks of it, the central railway system seems to be in worse shape than the western line. From the 81 stations the ORF study covered along the central line, only 250 toilet seats and 398 urinals were identified. However, the total number of toilets and urinals that should be in place, as recommended by the CR itself is 1,857!
Meanwhile, along the Western line, there are only a mere 105 toilet seats and 275 urinals that are supposed to cater to over 4 million commuters daily! International standards stipulate that the Mumbai suburban rail network needs to have 12,600 toilet seats! Water shortages abound even at major hubs like CST and Byculla.
Most Mumbaikars commuting on the city locals will vociferously vouch that the railway tracks are Mumbai’s best-known public toilets. I am ashamed to write this about my beloved city but it is the truth.
The very basic enmities like water, sanitation and sewerage systems are extremely lacking. The railway authorities must take heed of the call of citizens to transform Mumbai’s legendary railway system into a truly world class one, on par with any of its international sister cities. The task is huge and without the participation of the commuters themselves, PPP initiatives, the government, we will not be able to achieve this goal.
I want to hear your thoughts and suggestions of how we can collectively work together to transform Mumbai’s railways. Write in to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @shainaNC