On one side, 10 platforms, six waiting rooms, eight toilet complexes, three footover bridges, 10 water booths, 22 stalls, a parking lot, and a wandering hungry bull. On the other, nearly 1 lakh passengers daily — boarding and alighting from 200 trains — a tenth of whom make the station’s platforms and halls their home every night.
That, in a nutshell, is the story of Mathura Junction — the railway station adjudged ‘the least clean’ among the major 75 stations in the country in an audit-cum-survey by the Quality Council of India (QCI).
Mathura station’s battle against filth and grime is perhaps no different from any other in India — with cups strewn across the tracks, dirty toilets, and the ubiquitous paan stains. But, two additional factors, says Divisional Commercial Manager Sachit Tyagi, are responsible for the station slipping from the 59th to 75th position in the survey: large-scale construction and litter left behind by passengers who overstay their welcome.
“The QCI team came unannounced in May and there was a lot of construction on, in the halls, waiting rooms and entrances. The daily footfalls were also over 1.5 lakh because of a mela (fair) in the city,” says the officer.
The numbers are indeed a challenge for Deepak Gautam, the supervisor deployed by the third-party firm Vishakha that has the contract for cleaning the station, and his team of 90 men. They work in three shifts — 6 am to 2 pm, 2 pm to 10 pm and 10 pm to 6 am, and earn Rs 10,500 each per month. Gautam’s firm received the contract for the station in January this year for Rs 13.88 lakh per month.
It’s 10.30 am on a Thursday, and the rush hour that starts at 6 am, when most of the pilgrims arrive on over 30 trains, has just got over. At Platform No. 8, sweeping away bits of cloth, glass and spit, Birju Khare says, “Once I told a passenger to throw his cup in the dustbin. He shot back, ‘What are you paid for?’.”
The sweeping is to be followed by mopping, and Shivam Chouhan, 20, arrives with a ‘machine’. It looks like a toy car with a mop attached to the wheels. “It takes me about two hours to clean one platform. We have to do several rounds because people keep walking over the wet floor,” he says, adding that during one shift, he uses 3 litres of phenyl and 7 litres of Harpic for the 10 platforms.
As he instructs two of his men to pick the garbage off the tracks before they are sprayed with jet water, Gautam says, “We also use 25 kg of bleaching powder for the paan stains.”
But the moments where the station appears all mopped and scrubbed are brief. All it takes is for the next train to arrive.
“The passenger and train density at the station is very high as it falls on the Delhi-Mumbai route. The passengers who comehere don’t stay in hotels. They pack food from home, eat on the platform, and after visiting the temples, return to the station and sleep right here,” says Station Director N P Singh.
In fact, while the QCI survey also relied on feedback from passengers, the feedback register at the station has no complaints. Most of the entries are mostly notes of appreciation. Incidentally, the Vishakha cleaning company had also handled the Jodhpur station, ranked the ‘cleanest among major stations’ as per the survey, till 2012. “It was a different task altogether,” explains Ashok Yadav, 25, who worked as cleaning supervisor in Jodhpur, and takes over from Gautam in the evening. “The platforms were smaller, the crowd was lesser… Also, in Jodhpur, when we asked tourists not to litter, they listened. Yehan toh deewar par sar maarne jaisa hai (here it is like banging your head against a wall).”
The railway officers further explain why even comparison with Tirupati, also a temple town, but one which stood at rank 3, is unfair. “It is a much smaller station and most people come to visit just the Tirupati temple. It’s a one-day trip. Mathura has many religious sites,” says Station Director Singh.
A little after noon, at the toilet in the second-class waiting room, ‘cleaner’ Ravi Kumar, 31, recounts another struggle. “Someone broke the Indian toilet the other day, I don’t know how. Everyone uses this toilet, including the coolies and Class 3 staff. In another toilet, someone broke the door,” he says.
At the parking lot outside the station, maintained by another third-party firm, supervisor Som Kumar is fighting his own battle against litter. “Scores of rickshaw pullers stand here. It’s unauthorised. Then there are touts sent by hotels to get tourists. The result is bidi stubs and peanut shells everywhere. We have three boys who sweep the area two times a day, but that is not enough ,” he says.
Passengers are sprawled all over the footpaths lining the parking lot too, with piles of food packets and fruit peels around them. Kumar pulls up a few, but most are indifferent.
Post 3 pm, the frequency of trains increases, including the Pathankot Express, Shridham Express, Goa Express, and Ujjaini Express. Artificial mist is sprayed from overhead jets to combat the heat, but fails against the surging masses. One of the jets cracks and a stream of water falls on the platform, narrowly escaping a passenger right below.
As the night sets in, the numbers only grow, with thousands settling in on Platform No. 1 and in the waiting halls. Packets of chappatis and onions are opened, and the aroma of pickle fills the station. Flowers and prasad from the temple lie around.
Umesh and wife Lakshmi, a middle-aged couple from Kota, have spent the day visiting the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple, and plan to visit Vrindavan in the morning. As Lakshmi, 40, begins unpacking, out come two plastic bags with bedsheets, two old Sprite bottles filled with water and a steel dabba containing chopped tomatoes and pickle.
“We will sleep early, wake up at 4 am, freshen up in the toilet here, and leave for Vrindavan,” says Lakshmi, lying down on a plastic sheet, covering her face with her arms against the light. The dirty, empty plastic bowls are dumped nearby, and Umesh washes his hands with some water.
With the station almost taken over by similar plastic sheets, the cleaners tip-toe around, charily sweeping petals and food crumbs.
Says S K Pandey, who runs the A H Wheeler bookstore at the station, “It’s an issue of culture. Most of these pilgrims bathe every morning, wear clean clothes and visit temples. But they don’t care if their surroundings are unclean. Modiji mehnat kar rahein hain (PM Narendra Modi is working hard), but change can come only with education.”
Sometime around 8 pm, another regular visitor of the Mathura Junction saunters in — a black bull. In November last year, one such bull had made it to national limelight after being caught on camera charging at Mathura MP Hema Malini at the station. “Since then, we have installed barricades at the entrances, but work is still underway,” admits Singh
At Platform No. 1, the animal first goes scrounging from one dustbin to the next, spilling the trash onto the floor, and then makes its way towards the passengers, sending them scurrying. Leaving their cleaning jobs, a few men from Gautam’s team charge at the bull with sticks, and the animal shudders and defecates on the floor.
For the next hour, chasing the bull remains the main task of the men, and it’s 10 pm before the station is silent for the night.
Divisional Commercial Manager Tyagi though keeps his spirits up. A “world-class makeover” is on, he insists, with expansion of the footover bridge, and the construction of a new hall and toilet complexes. “The station will not be at the bottom of the cleanliness list next year.”