Dharampal, 33, has his eyes fixed on the Malani Express parked on Platform No. 1. “When this train leaves, it will leave behind a lot of work,” sighs the safai karamchari at Jodhpur Junction. Recently, the station was ranked the cleanest among ‘major stations’. For Dharampal, the other 150 cleaning staff, and their seven supervisors, in a station with a daily footfall of 45,000 and daily halts of 97 trains, that’s no mean feat.
It’s 10 pm on the night of August 15, the end of a long day for Dharampal and wife Neelam Devi, both of them employees of Rajdip Enterprises, the firm given the contract for the cleaning operations at Jodhpur Junction. Earning Rs 11,000 a month each, the couple are looking forward to hearing their children talk about the Independence Day celebrations at school.
The news that their station is ‘the cleanest in the country’ is welcome, they add. “It feels good to know our work is recognised.”
Jodhpur got a cleanliness score of 97.8 per cent, an improvement of 28.8 per cent from 2017, when it stood at rank 17 . “In 2016, when the cleaning contract was awarded to a private company, Rs 8.7 crore was allotted (for three years). This is a result of our teamwork,” says Station Director Narayan Lal.
Chief Health Inspector S S Rajpurohit says they got the Rs 8.7 crore offer in a tender floated following a budgetary change in 2014. “Earlier, we had a budget of just Rs 1.6 crore, with the contracting agency employing 73 staff… The biggest difference now is that we have more staff and machines and use better cleaning agents.”
As Dharampal and Neelam leave, men and women in yellow uniforms arrive for the next shift. Ajay Hans, the lone supervisor for the night, keeps a watch on the 30 people in the 10 pm-6 am shift. The morning shift, because of the larger crowds, has 70 personnel, while 50 are posted in the evening hours.
At 11 pm, Health Inspector Dharamveer drops in, and checks the platform as well as some compartments of the still-stationary Malani Express, frowning at the paan stains and paper cups. The 39-year-old lists out their challenges: paan stains, litter thrown by passengers, and waste from toilets that is dumped onto the tracks. “The longer a train stops, the higher the chances of littering.”
Which is why the Malani Express from Barmer to Delhi, with a two-hour halt at the station as it waits for more coaches to join, is a nightmare for the staff.
As the train slithers out of the station at 11.25 pm, the dustbins are cleared and the platform is mopped with a wet wipe again.
At 1.30 am, Mahendra Bhil starts cleaning the tracks, spraying water from a high-pressure jet. Part of the track-cleaning team, he calls out to his co-worker, “Maintain the pressure, ensure water flow is constant.”
Bhil will be here till 6 am the next day, before rushing home to be in time for school. He is in Class 9 at Saraswati Vidya Niketan, Jodhpur, and the school begins at 7.30 am.
Rajpurohit, sifting through four WhatsApp groups where supervisors regularly post pictures of the station, laments that their main problem is public attitude. “We impose fines and that has definitely helped. When one person is reprimanded, 10 others watch and learn,” says Lal.
The fine ranges from Rs 100 to Rs 500. In 2017, 3,758 people were fined at the Jodhpur station, earning it Rs. 3.8 lakh. This year until April, there have already been 2,764 cases and Rs 2.7 lakh collected in fines.
Around 6 am, the next shift arrives, among them Pushpa Avinash, a mother of three. She reached the station a couple of hours ago, she says, hitching a ride on a newspaper van from her village Mathania 40 km away, and will take a bus back. Despite the distance, Pushpa says, she prefers this work to the daily-wage jobs in fields back home.
Tracks are washed once more around 6.20 am, and then five hours later. Vinod Kandara, 30, rolls up his pants for perhaps the hardest task: cleaning the sewers near Platform No. 3. “We have to do this every day as the sewers are clogged with debris and solid waste (coming from toilets at the station),” he says, adding they have to often use shovels.
Dinesh Pandit, posted near the toilets and popping inside frequently after passengers leave, says, “Apart from the usual trash, I even find empty alcohol bottles inside.”
As the sun sets over the western horizon, the Malani Express returns to its place on the platform. For the next two hours, as passengers sip tea or take a stroll on the platform to kill time, the cleaning staff wait.