CAG castigates Railways for glaring deficiencies in waste management system

“There is no single agency in Indian Railways taking ownership of waste management related issues,” the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has observed

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Representative image
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Ashlin Mathew

Criticising the Indian Railways for its waste management system, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has observed that neither was there any demarcated fund allocation for waste management, nor was there a single body or agency within Indian Railways with a clear role and responsibility of managing waste.

Though the Environment and Housekeeping Management (EnHM) Directorate was required to manage the budget for housekeeping of the stations and trains which included cleanliness and sanitation of stations, coaches and railway colonies, the Ministry of Railways did not issue instructions on the demarcation of the waste management activities.

“There is no single agency in Indian Railways taking ownership of waste management related issues. EnHM wings were formed to undertake monitoring and coordination function for all environment-related issues, while planning, sanction and execution of environment related works was left to be dealt by the Commercial and Engineering department,” highlighted the report.

Despite an assurance to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for setting up the Engineering and Health Management Directorate at the zonal and at the divisional level, compliance by the Railways was partial.

“Accountable entities at the railway stations, divisions and at the zonal level were not constituted in 38.60% of the stations test checked. In 59 stations out of 109 selected for audit, directives of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for obtaining Consent to Establish (CTEs) from related State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) were not complied with (as of 31 July 2021),” stated the CAG report.

In 86% of the tested stations, waste collected from the pantry cars or the onboard housekeeping service (OBHS) was not dumped in separate assigned dustbins.

Audit conducted at 109 stations and 30 coaching depots revealed that assessment of quantity of plastic waste generated at 71 stations and in 26 coaching depots was not done by Indian Railways.

Directives of the NGT for implementation of 24 verifiable Indicators for proper monitoring of waste management at 36 of 720 major stations were not fully complied with. In 65 other stations, lack of seriousness in implementation of verifiable indicators was observed.

The audit found that Effluent Treatment Plants and Sewage Treatment Plants (ETP/STPs) were not commissioned in 19 major coaching depots and 40 workshops as of March 2020 despite availability of funds for environment related work.

Further, many of the commissioned ETPs/STPs were not operational. Shortcomings in process of handling and disposal of effluents and sludge were noticed in some of the ETPs/STPs.

Water Recycling Plants were not provided at 86 stations and Automatic Coach Washing Plants (ACWPs) were not installed at 43 out of 63 sanctioned locations as of March 2020.

The CAG stated that basic condition of segregating bio-degradable and non bio-gradable waste was
not ensured.

Facilities for management of solid waste such as wet waste processing, material recovery facility, provision of composting plant, waste segregation and recycling centres were not provided at 70% of the stations and 90% of coaching yards selected for audit.

Additionally, the CAG report observed that non-compliance of the rules prescribed for storage and labelling of hazardous waste in 102 units (out of 131 selected) remained a potential threat for the environment and people engaged in these units.

Requisite infrastructure for handling bio medical waste did not exist and there was deficiency in the process of collection of bio medical waste in hospitals test checked in audit. Provision of secured room with reference to bio-medical waste Rules for storage of bio-medical waste was not made in 46 Railway Hospitals out of 72 selected for audit, underscored the CAG report.

Further, in the absence of requisite equipment for treating bio-medical waste, 15 hospitals managed waste disposal departmentally, endangering safety of public health. Review and monitoring committee for managing bio-medical waste was not established in 52 hospitals. The clause that only skilled staff would handle bio-medical waste was not incorporated in the contracts at 46 hospitals in 14 zones either.

It was found during the audit that prescribed health check-up of staff involved in handling of bio-medical waste was not conducted during the review period (2015-16 to 2019-20) in 13 railway hospitals in nine zones. Records for conducting such health check-up were not maintained in seven hospitals in five zones.

Moreover, healthcare workers were not immunised during the review period in 14 hospitals in eight zones.

Further, in 23 hospitals in 11 zones where immunisation was done, no records for the same were maintained, pointed out the CAG audit report.

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