Can India’s trains, notorious for toilets that spray the tracks and run dry on longer journeys, have loos that do not stink and do not require water?
Yes, says a group of engineers from Tamil Nadu. Surya Narayan A, 24, and his friends, all in their early twenties, have won a little known nationwide competition conducted by Indian Railways to crowdsource ideas for waterless, odourless toilets in its trains. Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO), Lucknow, the R&D arm of the Railways, has decided to give Narayan’s winning concept a try in trains after necessary finetuning.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted to throw a challenge to Indians to see if a solution could be suggested by users who complain about train toilets being dirty and stinky. Entries were sought on the online platform mygov.in and the RDSO website — and engineers, students, architects, entrepreneurs and others from various walks of life responded. The 677 entries compiled over six months, however, represented mostly ideas, and hypotheses of uncertain workability. Surya Narayan’s was the one that seemed the closest to being plausible.
“The idea was to develop a concept that does not involve Railways having to change too much of the toilets that they already have. I’m glad they liked it,” Narayan told The Indian Express.
The Railways and Narayan’s team will jointly file for intellectual property tights for the idea. “It involves usage of water being next to nil — just about a litre — and arresting particles that produce odour. That’s all I can divulge now that we are going to file for patent along with the Railways,” Narayan said.
Narayan and his team — a batchmate and two juniors from Hindustan College of Engineering, Coimbatore — will receive Rs 3 lakh as prize money from the Railways.
But will the idea work?
“Of all the concepts we received, this seemed the most practical and effective, the reason why it probably got the first prize. So we are now going to try it out,” said V K Agarwal, Executive Director, Research at RDSO.
The concept developed by Rahul Garg, a final year student of civil engineering at IIT Hyderabad, and Saurabh Hans, a second year mechanical engineering student at the same institute, involves changing the design of toilets. “We have designed a common toilet seat, instead of separate designs for Indian and Western styles,” Hans said. Their concept uses vacuum and Terra preta solution — made from the manmade “black earth” of the Amazon basin — to neutralise the odour.