CHENNAI: In a first-ever initiative of its kind, the Southern Railways has embarked on an audit process, examining the condition of toilets across all stations under its jurisdiction.
All six divisions falling under the Southern Railways, including the Chennai division, have been instructed to constitute special teams involving personnel from multiple departments, including health and engineering. All stations on the Chennai suburban lines as well as the MRTS line from Chennai Beach-Velachery will be inspected. Under the Chennai Railway Division, there are 150-plus stations, several of which lack toilet facilities.
According to railway authorities, the inspection process which started on April 11 will go on till April 20. Among the parameters that the teams will look into are provision of clean and adequate supply of water as well as illumination in toilets. “Maintenance of toilets in many stations is outsourced. While we penalise the contractors for bad maintenance, it is not often that such deficiencies come to our notice,” a railway official said, when asked for the reason behind the audit.
Significantly, rather than merely being an internal audit, railway authorities have decided to invite feedback about the proper functioning of toilets from commuters as well. For this, passengers can convey their feedback through the helpline number 25354457 or 25354405 (Chennai).
City’s Two Big Rail Stations Too Have Inadequate Toilets
It took a direction from the Madras High Court for railway authorities to wake up to the condition of toilets in its stations. Based on a PIL filed by Satta Panchayat Iyakkam, an NGO, the HC bench on February 11 pulled up the Southern Railways.
The NGO said that pending few, the toilets in city suburban stations are dysfunctional. It was reported that less than 20% of railway stations in the suburbs have functional toilets. Though the provision of toilets and urinals is a must as per the minimum standards prescribed by the Railway Board, in reality, most of them are in a dilapidated condition, forcing commuters into open defecation. Admitting deficiencies in maintenance of toilets in suburban stations, Chennai divisional railway officials say contractors had shown reluctance in operating them, as they were not yielding monetary returns. “But under the new rules, contractors are not obliged to pay railway authorities; so there has been good response for the ‘expression of interest’ (issued last month), which called for contractors to maintain toilets in 133 stations,” one of the officials said.
On the other hand, adequate toilet facilities are not provided at the two major stations in the city. For example, the Egmore station, which ranks only behind Central station in terms of passenger footfall, has only one functional toilet at the far end of the main platform. This is inadequate, considering the station is also part of the Beach-Tambaram suburban line. Though there are restrooms in the two waiting halls for long distance passengers, those plying on the local line rue that they have to climb multiple steps before coming down to access the sole functional toilet.
The situation at Central station is worse than Egmore, as the former has just one functional toilet. “Though there is another toilet, it has been non-functional for quite a while. I have been told it is under renovation. Passengers and visitors have to cover a long distance to access the usable toilet located on the other end,” said a coolie.
A railway official at Central station said the dysfunctional toilet is under renovation and will be opened for public soon.