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Indian Railways sued for unhygienic waste disposal
A Correspondent | January 28, 2007 15:29 IST
An Indian-American sought an order from the Kerala high court in India demanding that Indian Railways stop the practice of discarding human waste in the open.
Las Vegas resident George Joseph Themplangad, a medical doctor originally from India, filed the writ petition citing several laws, requesting the court to issue an interim order directing the railways to manufacture new coaches with the facility to treat human waste till a final order is issued in the petition.
Most of the passenger coaches have four toilets, two on either end of each coach. The human waste from these toilets is directly discharged onto the open tracks, the petition said, asserting the unhindered dumping of such waste is resulting in unhygienic conditions that cause the spread of disease.
Human waste contains a large number of germs that cause diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, other water-borne diseases and parasitic infections. Parasites like hookworm, tapeworm, roundworm and pinworm are spread mainly through human waste that results in the spread of communicable diseases, it said.
The seemingly innocent actions of the railways contaminates the environment and promotes unsanitary conditions, negating the very small strides made in sanitation and community health, the petition said adding, the railway's action is illegal and a direct infringement of the right to life of the people.
The railway's action flouts the Environmental Protection Act, 1986, Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Indian Penal Code, 1860, among others, the petition said.
The right to live in a pollution-free environment has been declared a fundamental right flowing directly from Article 21 of the Constitution of India, it said, claiming the railways build train compartments using outmoded technology and was unwilling to adopt modern practices.
The Indian Railways covers over 63,940 km (39,730 miles), transporting about 6 billion passengers annually across 27 states and three Union territories. A passenger train carries about 1,728 passengers at a time.
Germs from human waste can find their way into food and water, carried over by insects or animals, by runoff from the tracks during the rains or because waste falls directly into rivers and streams the trains pass over. So, a sick passenger can potentially spread the disease over a large area.
The railways appear to be aware of this problem as they have put up notices in some coaches requesting passengers not to use the toilets when the train is stationary.
All polluters are bound by law to dispose off toxic wastes. The Indian Railways should meet standards adopted by other railways across the world and install necessary pollution control and waste disposal mechanisms, the petitioner said.
Though a non resident Indian, Themplangad visits India twice a year. He has represented India at medical meets and has worked with Mother Teresa and her organisation, the Missionaries of Charity. He was involved with various relief efforts, as happened during the riots following Indira Gandhi's assassination, after the earthquake in San Francisco, and the Oklahoma bombing.
Themplangad is represented by advocates Bechu Kurian Thomas, Paul Jacob, Roshen D Alexander, and Naveen Cherian.