Thursday, January 10, 2013
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Indian Railways scores high on pollution index but that does not seem to bother the administration

Spread over 65,000 km and ferrying 2.8 million tons of goods plus 24 million passengers daily, Indian Railways can be called the most populous Indian city on wheels. And just like any other city, railways also eats up resources and generates waste on the way. In fact, railways is the biggest consumer of energy in India guzzling down 2567.37 million litres of diesel and 16105.00 million units of electricity.

However, the writ of pollution control boards does not run here which is quite evident from the fact that railway officials neither apply for consents to allow loading/unloading of polluting items like coal nor for authorisation of employees to handle hazardous waste. An audit of Indian Railways' environmental management done by CAG in 2012 is revealing in various such aspects.

Environmental problems mainly arise during handling and transportation of pollution intensive commodities such as coal, iron ore, cement, fertilisers, petroleum etc. Fugitive emission, emissions of gases or vapours from pressurised equipment due to leaks and  other reasons, is also caused by these commodities. So far, no standard instructions regarding packing and transporting of different kinds of goods have been detailed by the Railways in their codes and manuals. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was also found wanting as it issued no specific guidelines on this.

According to the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, all sidings (place where the goods are loaded, unloaded and temporarily stored) and railway good sheds require Consent for Operation (CFO) from the concerned SPCB. Test check of 34 sidings over 16 zones revealed that CFO was obtained only for 55 per cent sidings and 10 out of the remaining 15 sidings gave an excuse of absence of specific instructions from the Raiway Board/ Pollution Control Boards. No action was taken against the sidings for non-adherence to the statutory provisions.

Test check of 34 sidings over 16 zones revealed that consent for operation was obtained only for 55 per cent sidings and 10 out of the remaining 15 sidings gave an excuse of absence of specific instructions from the Raiway Board/ Pollution Control Boards. No action was taken against the sidings for non-compliance.

The guidelines issued by pollution control boards of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha called for covering of open wagons carrying pollution intensive commodities. installation of water sprinkling system, plantation, construction of boundary wall, drainage and proper approach roads, covering of all minerals when not in use etc. On verification of the status of their implementation at six sidings and six goods sheds in the three zones falling within their jurisdiction it was found that the guidelines were being completely followed only in the East Coast Railway zone.

The Railway Administration (North Western Railway) failed to control fugitive emission at the time of unloading of coal at Merta Road Goods Shed resulting in public complaints. In fact, on one occasion, the court imposed a penalty of Rs 5 lakh against the Railway Administration and Rs 25 lakh against the consignor. The officals claimed they had issued instructions for adoption of some remedial measures like provision of water sprinkler, plantation and construction of boundary walls. However, these remedial measures were yet to be implemented as checked in August 2012.

At the instance of CAG, CPCB carried out a study in March 2012 for assessment of ambient air quality at 14 major stations over 12 zones of the railways. None of the stations covered in the study had applied for consents under the Air (Prevention and control of Pollution) Act and Water (Prevention and control of Pollution) Act and also authorisation for handling hazardous waste. Further, the values of various gaseous pollutants exceeded the national ambient air quality standards prescribed by the CPCB at a number of stations.

The ambient air quality with respect to suspended particulate matter at most of the railway stations was above the national ambient air quality standards. Also, there was no system of monitoring pollution level at stations.

Blaring all the way

An independent study by Annamalai University during September 2002 at three important stations-Chennai Central, Tiruchirappalli and Villupuram over Southern Railway revealed that the average sound level at platforms, driver's rest room, etc., were in the upper limits of the prescribed levels (65 and 55 db(A) Leq for day time and night time respectively). During March 2012, CPCB conducted noise monitoring at different locations of 14 major stations over 12 zones at different points of time in a day.

The study revealed that noise levels were in excess of the prescribed limit at all stations and there was no system of monitoring. CPCB code of practice for controlling noise from sources other than industries and automobiles suggests erection of acoustic barriers, reduction of speed and avoiding whistling within and along the municipal limits and habitation zones for railway operations. Scrutiny of records revealed that no instructions had been issued at the level of Railway Board regarding noise control measures near habitation/silence zones.

Noise levels were in excess of the prescribed limit at all stations and there was no system of monitoring. No instructions had been issued by the Railway Board regarding noise control measures like erection of acoustic barriers, reduction of speed and avoiding whistling within and along the municipal limits and habitation zones.

Propelling the waste

Indian Railways is a major user of water for cleaning of trains and stations. It also generates a large quantity of sewage both on trains and stations. Train servicing and maintenance processes generate effluents such as oil, anti-freeze and cleaning chemicals which can pollute the environment, if not carefully controlled. Thus, proper treatment of waste before its discharge into the municipal sewers is essential. The Railway Board gave instructions in June 2009 for installation of Effluent Treatment Plants (ETP) at all major stations but on the ground, these plants are too few and far between.

The Railway Board gave instructions in June 2009 for installation of Effluent Treatment Plants (ETP) at all major stations but on the ground, these plants are too few and far between. The sanction of only 17 plants at national level barely averages one plant per zone and leaves most of the major stations without any.

Out of 17 treatment plants sanctioned over five zones, 14 were installed in three zones till March 2012. The sanction of only17 treatment plants at an all India level barely averages one plant per zone and leaves most of the major stations without one. There was little initiative for making provision of treatment plants in the remaining 12 zones. A study done by CPCB in 14 major stations over 12 zones of Indian Railways revealed that the waste water /effluents were being discharged to public sewer.

There was no system for monitoring quality and quantum of waste water generated at stations. In South East Central Railway, petroleum products were found deposited alongside the track. There were no specific instructions from the Railway Board regarding treatment of oil spillages at sidings. No records regarding quantity of water treated and chemical used were maintained in South Central Railway. During joint inspection by audit along with the railway officials, it was observed that in absence of any treatment plant in South Eastern Railway, effluents were being discharged from the major stations to the nearby low lying areas /water bodies and municipal drainage system resulting in contamination of surrounding surface and ground water.

The discharge of human waste is more pathetic. Railways uses over 40,000 coaches regularly for providing passenger services with each coach having four toilets. About 3,980 MT of human waste is generated everyday by travelling passengers from ‘Open discharge’ module toilets of these coaches that directly goes onto the rail tracks polluting the stations and the areas through which the trains pass. In order to avoid open discharge of toilets on track, introduction of ‘Green Toilets' has been under consideration for last two decades and it will still take a long time before they turn into a norm rather than an exception. According to a media report, all trains maintained by the Delhi Division will have green toilets by the end of this financial year.

In order to avoid open discharge of toilets on track, introduction of ‘Green Toilets' has been under consideration for last two decades and it will still take a long time before they turn into a norm rather than an exception.

In the existing scenario, the discharge from toilets falls directly into the water bodies or road running below the Road under Bridges. The Indian Railways Bridge Manual provides that rivers and road under bridges should be covered by suitable and approved means to prevent droppings, falling from passing trains on water bodies or roads.

Study in 16 zones revealed that out of 1,196, 20 per cent of road under bridges were not covered at the bottom to prevent toilet discharge from the passing trains falling on the road users. Further, out of 424 and 5,437 steel girder bridges across water bodies under ‘Important’ and under ‘Major’ category respectively, 76 per cent and 69 per cent were not covered at the bottom leading to water pollution by toilet discharges falling from passing trains.

In response to a writ petition seeking a directive for prevention of dumping of toilet waste from running trains into the open environment, a bench of High Court of Kerala directed in October 2011 the Railways and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to file an affidavit proposing a solution to the problem. The Division Bench observed that the problem was very acute in Kerala as the railway lines passed through thickly populated areas and over rivers which were the main source of drinking water. The case though yet to be disposed off, clearly reflects the lack of sensitivity of the Railways towards a healthy environment and also lack of monitoring in implementing standard instructions issued by itself for prevention and control of water pollution.

During the exit conference, Southern Central Railway Administration opined that there was no need to cover the bottom of the bridges passing over water bodies as the pollution from toilet discharge was negligible compared to the volume of the stream. On the other hand, Western Central Railway Administration stated that with the provision of green toilet covering of bridges would not be required. The contentions of the Railway Administrations were not in conformity with the provisions contained in the Bridge Manual.

Western Central Railway Administration stated that with the provision of green toilet covering of bridges would not be required. The contentions of the Railway Administrations were not in conformity with the provisions contained in the Bridge Manual.

Energy and water bill

Indian Railways is the single largest user of both energy and water in the country. It consumed about 1.61 billion KWh of electricity during 2010-11 as against the national consumption of 568 billion KWh. Test check of 212 stations over 17 zones revealed that 13 water recycling plants were sanctioned in only five zones. While five such plants were installed in four zones, the work for installation of eight others was either not started or still in progress. In 12 zones, no provision of recycling plants had been made.

The Railway Administration claimed that the proposal for water recycling plants would be included in phased manner based on availability of funds. During joint inspection with railway officials, it was observed that instead of recycled water from these plants, only fresh water drawn from bore wells/Municipal Corporation sources was being used for all operations such as cleaning of platforms, cement concrete aprons and coaches.

During examination of efficiency of the functioning of recycling plants installed in five zones, it was found that at Bangalore and Chatrapati Sivaji Terminus, Mumbai, the plants were working at 60 and 50 per cent of their installed capacity respectively. The plant installed at Secunderabad at a cost of Rs 0.96 crore was utilised upto only 22 per cent of its installed capacity. This resulted in procurement of water from municipal corporation leading to extra avoidable expenditure of Rs 0.56 crore during the period May 2008 to March 2011.

In May 2003, Ministry of Water Resources requested Indian Railways to make provision for rain water harvesting in all future railway constructions. Accordingly, instructions were issued in February 2005 for implementation of harvesting system. Review of 212 selected stations revealed that roof top water harvesting systems were installed at only seven stations  and there was no system of monitoring implementation of the instructions.

Review of 212 selected stations revealed that roof top water harvesting systems were installed at only seven stations  and there was no system of monitoring implementation of the instructions.

An Expert Committee set up by the Planning Commission to formulate an integrated energy policy had recommended promotion of the system of urban mass transport, energy efficient vehicles and freight movement by Railways through scheduled freight trains to save energy. Indian Railways spent Rs 10,503 crore on fuel during 2010-11 which constituted about 15 per cent of its total ordinary working expenses.

In May and July 2008, the Railway Board advised zonal railways to fix action plan/ targets for energy consumption (non-traction) by adopting various energy conservation measures through energy efficient devices. Some major energy efficient measures implemented in the zones were segregation of 70/30 lighting circuits at platform, replacement of HPMV lamps with metal halides lamps, use of CFL fittings in place of 60/40 watt incandescent lamps, use of T-5 fluorescent tube etc. Due to these measures, Railways saved 860.25 lakh KWh of energy worth Rs 70.20 crore in 17 zones which is commendable.

However, it's the use of renewable sources of energy like solar panels and wind where the railways failed to make an impact. To handle its vast freight and passenger traffic, railways operates as many as 5,137 diesel powered and 4033 number of electric locomotives. These locomotives consume 2567.37 million liters of diesel and 16105.00 million units of electricity making railways the highest consumer of energy in the country.

The energy conservation policy envisaged use of solar panels at stations, LC gates, use of wind energy for non traction purposes etc. Out of a target of 5704 manned level crossings, 51 per cent were electrified using solar energy and hybrid system during 2007-11. The works in respect of 704 level crossings are in progress but seven out of 15 zones could not achieve the target set for electrification of manned level crossings.

The railways failed to make a major progress in tapping wind energy. During the period of review (2007-12) only four wind power plants were sanctioned in three zones. This indicated a lack of urgency in exploiting cleaner and alternative renewable sources of energy.

On a bloody terrain

Apart from causing loss of animals, train hits can also result in severe loss to the Railways. In certain cases it could lead to derailment of the train, damage to the track, wagons and coaches; injury and death of passengers and/or detention of the train. As many as 67 animals died during the review period, 2006-11, which included 62 elephants and one lion. The majority of elephant deaths occurred in NorthEast Frontier Railway (NEFR) where 43 elephants died followed by Southern Railway where 10 elephants died. In March 2010, Ministry of Railways and Ministry of Environment & Forests jointly issued general advisories to prevent train accidents involving elephants. General advisories included measures like clearance of vegetation alongside the tracks sensitising programmes for train drivers/guards, keeping the track free from food wastes and engagement of elephant trackers.

As many as 67 animals died during the review period, 2006-11, which included 62 elephants and one lion. The majority of elephant deaths occurred in NorthEast Frontier Railway where 43 elephants died followed by Southern Railway where 10 elephants died.

The measures as mentioned in the general advisories were implemented in NEFR except the construction of forest underpasses/over passes across railway tracks for safe passage of elephants in accident prone areas between Alipurduar and Siliguri section  which were under progress. Southern Railway had taken a number of preventive measures like imposition of speed restriction, provision of warning boards, regular clearing of vegetation on sides of track for better visibility etc.

The Southern Railway Administration claimed that rail fencing had already been provided in forest areas between Ettimadai and Madukarai stations in Palakkad- Podanur section. In Southern Eastern Railway, it was however, observed that neither any sensitisation programme was being conducted nor any action taken for engagement of elephant trackers. Besides, no specific clause was incorporated in the agreements with IRCTC for proper disposal of wastes in order to keep railway tracks free from food wastes. Despite implementation of a number of preventive measures, the animal mortality due to train hits had not declined.

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