While the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) is vying for ODF++ (Open Defecation Free) ratings from the Union government as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA), claiming it has progressed two notches upwards in achieving ODF drive targets, the picture is starkly different along the railway tracks passing through PMC jurisdiction.
Every day, hundreds of slum-dwellers staying in the vicinity of railway tracks choose to relieve themselves on the tracks. The PMC’s failure to rein in this practice has forced the Indian Railway administration to launch a special campaign to catch and penalise residents who defecate on the tracks.
Pune was declared an ODF city in 2017 and improved the ranking to ODF + the next year. Pune Municipal Commissioner Saurabh Rao has recently written to the Swachh Bharat Mission, urging that Pune’s status be upgraded to ODF++ as it “fulfils the criteria for such a rating.” While an ODF status means that ‘on any single day not a single person is found defecating in the open’, ODF+ protocol means that while maintaining the ODF achievements, the city improves the sanitation sustainability with impeccable maintenance of public toilets, fast disposal of complaints, making arrangements for floating populations and penalising those defecating in open.
ODF++ means safe management of faecal sludge and septage, no discharge or dumping of untreated septage in drains and water bodies. However, if railway authorities are to be believed, Pune shouldn’t have been granted ODF status to begin with — let alone ODF+ and ODF++. They said everyday hundreds of slum-dwellers soil the tracks, which causes great trouble for the track maintenance teams.
“A large number of people staying in slums near Pune railway station, Shivajinagar, Ghorpadi and Sangam Bridge defecate on the railway tracks. While these residents should use public toilets provided by municipal corporation, they choose to soil the railway tracks, which we endeavour to keep clean,” said Manoj Jhanvar, spokesperson for Pune Railway Division. Jhanvar added: “Perhaps they choose to relieve themselves on the tracks as the public toilets are not in usable conditions.”
Defecation on tracks not only means that railway staffers have to work in filthy environment, the movement by defecators also disturbs the ballast, causing operational issues and also causes corrosion of metal nut-bolts posing maintenance challenges.
The issue, in fact, has prompted the Pune Division of Indian Railway to set up three squads of its officials, who go on the vigil of tracks in the vicinity of slums to catch and penalise open defecators. The drive was started two weeks ago.
“The teams roam around the tracks between 6 am and 9 am every day. There are three teams formed for this purpose. In the last two weeks, they have caught 127 persons while defecating on or near tracks and have imposed a penalty of Rs 49,000. This, obviously, is only a fraction of the actual number of defecators as a team of 20 men is not enough to keep a vigil on the entire length of tracks in the city,” said a senior official involved in the drive.
When The Indian Express spoke to several residents of the slums in the vicinity of train tracks, they said they were forced to defecate in open as public toilets were either not in enough numbers or were not maintained well. “There are four toilet blocks for men and four for women. Most of these do not have proper doors and are often choked. Because of that many people go to defecate. In fact, most children defecate outside due to lack of proper facilities in public toilets,” said Afzal Shaikh, a resident of a slum near Shivajinagar railway station.
When asked for a comment, PMC’s Dyaneshwar Molak, who heads the Solid Waste Management department, said the civic body was continuously working to improve the public toilets in various slums in the city. “It is possible that those who are defecating on the tracks are not slum-dwellers but floaters arriving in trains. However, we have been working to improve the public toilets in various slums and will step up the work in the next few months. On the issues raised, we will co-ordinate with railway authorities to improve the situation,” said Molak.