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Car valve sparks train toilet solution

Chennai, Sept. 11: The 12-year-old was playing with junk car parts when she solved one of India’s most vexing problems: filthy railway tracks and smelly platforms.

K. Masha Nazeem yesterday explained to The Telegraph how she came to invent her device ' now adopted by the railways ' to keep tracks at stations free of human waste.

The Class VIII student from Nagercoil remembers the date: October 4, 2004. She was playing with a discarded pipe from her uncle’s car while listening to the radio. Suddenly, a news item caught her attention: railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav had threatened to punish passengers who used the toilet while a train stood at a station.

Something stirred in her mind and she looked at the pipe ' it was fitted with a solenoid valve, which regulates the flow of petrol from the tank to the car engine as the driver turns the ignition key.

“My uncle had given me these pieces from his old car, and I was experimenting with it by pouring water to see how the flow is regulated,” Nazeem said. She put two and two together.

“I applied the principle of the solenoid valve in cars to toilets in trains. If a car driver can regulate the flow of petrol from tank to engine with a turn of the key, why can’t an engine driver control flow of waste from a tank in the toilet to the tracks' He should just have to switch off discharge while the train is at a station and switch it on after the train leaves the platform.

“I got to work and finished the device in five days. I built the model in thermocol and put it up at the district-level science exhibition in Tirunelveli in October itself.”

Chosen for the state-level exhibition in Coimbatore, she made a wooden model. In the third week of January came her biggest moment: she won the first prize at the Southern States Science Fair in Secunderabad. As he handed her the award, minister of state for railways R. Velu promised to consider the device for adoption.

Railway engineers were already on the job, but Nazeem’s model amazed all with its simplicity and elegance. The Integral Coach Factory is now fitting its new coaches with the device.

An elated Nazeem then sought an appointment with India’s scientist President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who, like her, is from Tamil Nadu. “The President advised us to meet the railway minister first,” said her father Kaja Nazeemudeen, an accountant with the Kanyakumari district treasury.

“On August 23, we first met Laloo Prasad Yadav and then went to Rashtrapati Bhavan with a wooden model of the device.”

Kalam told Nazeem “to first file for a patent if she has not already done so”, Kaja said. Kalam also gave the girl a signed citation.

The chief minister and the officials of her home state, however, aren’t impressed enough to set aside red tape for her.

Nazeem wants to display her model at the National Science Exhibition in Delhi from November 14 but “the authorities are saying the state government has to recommend her first, for she hadn’t won any prizes at the state-level exhibition”, Kaja said.

“I have been trying to meet chief minister Jayalalithaa. I twice went to Chennai seeking an appointment but in vain,” Kaja said.

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