Most people travelling by a train tend to blame cleaners and fellow passengers alike for not keeping the
train’s toilets clean. But a paper by a professor of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A)
argues that Indian Railways should minimise the role of human beings in keeping train toilets clean and
adopt advanced technology toilets instead.
The paper titled, ‘Toilets and Trains’, by Prof G Raghuram of IIMA suggests that the Indian Railways
should start replacing existing train toilets with the ‘chemical toilet’, ‘modular toilet’ or ‘vacuum toilet’.
Arguing for adoption of advanced toilets on trains, the paper says that, in the year 2005-06, around 730 million
people had used trains to travel. This boils down to 2 million passengers a day and an average of
around 300,000 litres of fecal waste per day. Indian Railways runs 8,700 passenger trains and touches about
7000 stations, the paper states.
Use of technologically advanced toilets would enable the Indian Railways to use human excreta and waste water to generate energy and provide water for plants located on the railway station premises. The paper further suggests that the Railways should remove caste-based recruitment of employees for the task of toilet cleaning. And if it continues with the old system, it should increase the salary of cleaners to attract more people to join its toilet cleaning team, the paper
The current method of disposing of human waste from trains is merely to deposit the waste on tracks
using what is known as the ‘Hopper Toilet.’ “The IR has been experimenting with different types of toilets
like the chemical, modular, etc,” said Prof Raghuram. “The Railways should adopt a toilet technology
where waste is stored after separating the water from it.”
He further said that this water could be stored in the train and discharged at major stations to be used for
plants in the gardens maintained by the Railways. Similarly, the solid matter from human excreta could
be collected at the train’s terminating station to produce biogas and generate electricity. “Imagine, if there are 50 trains terminating in Ahmedabad, the solid fecal matter collected and stored to generate biogas could generate electricity for the lights at the railway station,” he said.
Prof Raghuram also said that the vacuum toilet (it is used in commercial aircraft) seems to be the best toilet
as it not only stores the fecal matter for alternate use but also helps in conserving water. His paper states
that the implications of adoption advanced technology toilets for passengers as well as railway staff must
be clearly understood and dealt with appropriately.