Field Notes | Society

Cleanliness programmes in railway stations are ensuring that every coach is litter-free

All in a day’s work: Safai Sena members at their job in the New Delhi railway station.   | Photo Credit: R.V. Moorthy

If you’re used to being greeted by an army of red-coated coolies when the train pulls into your station, the Kanpur Shatabdi might give you a surprise. As it glides into New Delhi Railway Station (NDRS) on a sunny Saturday noon, it’s a yellow team of waste-pickers that awaits you. Masks, sacks and bin-liners in hand, they wait for the train to come to a stop.

Meet the Safai Sena, or ‘cleanliness army’. Once all the passengers file out of the train, five to six members of the Safai Sena hop into the coach. They get to work quickly, emptying the bins, removing uneaten food, separating wet waste from the dry. Within minutes they are done with one coach and move to the next: as they shift, they hand out bulging bags of the collected garbage to the crew waiting on the platform with a large trolley.

Swept away

When the last coach is cleaned, the mountain of trash piled high on the trolley gives you an idea of how much was consumed and how much was thrown away on just one train ride. The garbage will be rolled out of the station and into a shed for recovery. This afternoon, Safai Sena supervisor Roshan Kumar is overseeing the work, making sure every coach is litter-free. “It’s also our job to ensure that the garbage bins on the platforms, both for wet and dry waste, are never overflowing. We have to empty them thrice a day,” he says.

Cleanliness programmes in railway stations are ensuring that every coach is litter-free

As the train pulls away, a group of cleaners in green uniform, brooms in hand, descend on the littered tracks to sweep them clean. They are employed by an agency in charge of cleaning the NDRS. The Safai Sena is trained by Chintan, a Delhi-based non-profit organisation that works to recycle, compost and reduce waste and minimise the trash that reaches landfills. Chintan takes no money for the work it does, relying instead on income generated from garbage recycling.

The entire operation is part of a cleanliness drive that was put in place at major railway stations in the last few years. The efforts are manifold. “We have three contractors for mechanised cleaning working in the NDRS — VPSSR Facilities, Apcon India and Primus Solution Enterprising. In the last one or two years, with the streamlining of processes, the station has become much cleaner than before. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has had a positive effect. You won’t see garbage lying around. There is more awareness among passengers as well, as we hold cleanliness drives regularly,” says station superintendent Ramesh Chand.

New Delhi is one of the busiest railway stations in the country, and gets roughly 4 lakh visitors a day. Keeping it clean is no mean task, but Chintan and the other three agencies are getting it done.

Valuable trash

So what happens to the trash collected by Safai Sena? We follow the pile of garbage collected from the Kanpur Shatabdi to find out. A

short walk takes us to a large green shed located behind the railway tracks with a signboard saying: Chintan: Material Recovery Facility (MRF).

As we step into the neat room, an enormous pile of plastic bottles is what we notice first. These bottles will be collected by a recycling agency at the end of the day.

Every masked and gloved worker here is trained to work through hundreds of kilos of trash, which spill out of white sacks and garbage bags, and divide them up methodically into large blue buckets. A whiteboard on the wall details how much cardboard, plastic, Tetrapack and other items, running into thousands of kilos, have been recovered per day by the team.

Safai Sena leader Jai Prakash Choudhary is busy overseeing operations when we visit. The dry waste is segregated into over 12 categories for recycling. Uneaten rotis make up 10-12 kilos of the waste gathered each day. They are fed to cows.

The wet waste is composted, using an organic waste composter as well as an aerobic pit compost processor. Only the waste which cannot be treated at all, such as chicken gravy or plastic bags containing filthy items, is taken away to the landfill.

Cleanliness programmes in railway stations are ensuring that every coach is litter-free

Mess no more

“We collect trash from about 16 trains every day, in three shifts. It’s a 24-hour operation,” says Choudhary. “When we started work at the NDRS, it was hard to collect trash properly as the ragpickers would rush into the trains and create a mess rummaging through the bins. But now, with the help of railway officials, it’s much easier to do our work.” Not only does the NDRS not have to pay Chintan for the operation, it also gets the compost that is generated, valued at ₹15 per kilo, free. Chintan only sells the recyclable waste — which, they say, amounts to 3.25 tonnes of the 4 tonnes of waste collected each day at the NDRS.

Last year, Railway Board Chairman Ashwani Lohani had called for a new sanitation strategy that would include awareness creation around bio-toilets and safe garbage disposal, while putting in place a set of anti-littering rules. Meanwhile, to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, a drive was launched between September 15 and October 2 at the station. It used social media, nukkad natak (street plays), and audio-visual clips to motivate passengers and others to participate in keeping the railways clean.

It’s a long haul, but the results are beginning to slowly show up. At any rate, it’s a big departure from the cesspits that stations were even a decade ago.

The freelance journalist is a lover of cakes, chai, bookshops and good yarns.

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 4:51:29 PM |

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