AK Antony and Jairam Ramesh check out a bio-toilet at DRDO Bhavan in New Delhi on Thursday. The same technology will be used in the toilets designed for trains. (PTI)
New Delhi, July 27: The stench that has marked India’s trains, platforms and tracks for 160 years could largely disappear by 2017 if the government can deliver on an ambitious plan to revamp train toilets.
The railways have been using odour-removing, bio-friendly toilets since 2008 but in only nine select trains. The idea now is to retrofit all the 50,000 coaches that crisscross the country every day with these toilets, developed by the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO).
Unlike the traditional train toilets, these “bio-digesters” will not release the waste on the tracks — a practice that is the single biggest source of the cringe-inducing stink that permeates the country’s railway system.
Instead, these toilets will use bacteria brought from Antarctica to digest the waste and convert it into odourless methane gas and water.
“The technology is self-sustaining: the anaerobic bacteria will survive and grow without oxygen inside the bio-tank,” said S. Radhakrishnan, a director at DRDO.
The DRDO had originally developed these toilets for use by soldiers in high-altitude areas such as Siachen. One of its scientists, Ravi Gupta, said the bio-toilets for trains had been designed keeping in mind passengers’ habit of throwing “hard substances like plastic bottles and paper” into toilets.
“So, these toilets will have a filter to tap the hard objects, and the tank will be large in size,” he said.
Rural development and sanitation minister Jairam Ramesh said the estimated cost of retro-fitting the 50,000 existing coaches with these toilets is around Rs 500 crore. New coaches will roll out complete with these bio-toilets, he confirmed.
“Our ministry and the railway ministry will share the cost equally. In the next four to five years, all the trains will have bio-toilets,” Ramesh said.
Ramesh’s ministry has also decided to install one lakh such toilets in 1,000 gram panchayat areas in the next five years at a cost of Rs 400 crore.
The minister rued the way India’s governments had neglected public sanitation over the years while earmarking as much as 14 per cent of their budgets for defence.
“The money required to install one lakh bio-digesters is (equivalent to the price of) just one Rafale fighter (aircraft),” he said.
Defence minister A.K. Antony said the DRDO would continue providing technology to improve sanitation.
Srikant Jena, junior minister for statistics and programme implementation, has suggested that MPs spend a fifth of the Rs 5 crore they receive as local area development funds on installing bio-digesters in their constituencies.