Sprucing up Mumbai Railway toilets

From R: DG Gopal Mandhania, Station Master Ravi and RCBK President Sunil Kumar.
From R: DG Gopal Mandhania, Station Master Ravi and RCBK President Sunil Kumar.

On a sweltering hot and humid day in May, I struggle to keep pace with the brisk walk of D 3141 DG Gopal Rai Mandhania as we race to the Elphinstone Road station on the Western railway segment of Mumbai’s suburban rail network through a crowded sidewalk that seems never ending in the heat.

He is headed there to inaugurate a toilet renovation project at the station, which is being done by RC Bombay Kandivli (RCBK), through a $90,000 Global Grant that will renovate toilets in 11 railway stations in the metro. The lifeline of Mumbai, over 75 lakh passengers commute through this network and we “felt that providing clean, stench-free toilets at some of these stations would be real service to this city which all of us love so much,” says DG Mandhania.

I have also travelled by Mumbai’s trains and I know the filthy conditions… often you don’t even feel like using the toilet.
– D 3141 DG Gopal Mandhania

We quickly march to the platform, where the trains are coming and departing, spilling out hundreds of commuters. Sunil Kumar, President of RCBK, is already waiting there, armed with a small hammer to symbolically chip away a part of the toilet block so it can be renovated. And a few coconuts, and pooja material, with which a small pooja is performed to inaugurate the project. Member of the club, Aparna Garud, an architect in charge, explains that both the ladies and gents toilets are being renovated. “We found that in some cases the space inside has not been utilised properly, in others there are too many urinals and not enough wash closets, particularly western ones for senior citizens. For hygiene reasons, many people prefer Indian toilets, so we are giving both. And also renovating the toilet for handicapped.”

Kumar says they teamed up with RC North Down, D 1160, UK for this global grant, and Mandhania adds that a part of the money has come from the DDF.

As he cordially invites station master Ravi to break a coconut, saying “after all, he is the real boss here”, Mandhania says a Rotary logo will go up on all the toilet blocks which will be completed by mid-June. “What better place than such a bustling place to do a project to enhance Rotary’s public image,” he smiles.

The RI staff ask a lot of questions, which is their job, but their attitude is very positive. They answer your questions so fast; we feel they are there to solve our problems and not create new ones.

Each toilet will cost Rs 5 lakh “but what is more important is that Rotary has been given permission to maintain the toilets for the next three years and we’ll employ our own supervisors to take care of the maintenance, which is very important. We just can’t spend money on renovation and walk away.” Also, he adds, any minor damages will be taken care of by Rotary.

On why this project was chosen, the DG says, “One is public image and I have also travelled by these trains and I know the filthy conditions… often you don’t even feel like using the toilet.”

Apart from this Global Grant project, “we are going to do toilets in 22 stations on Central Railway, and that is being done by various clubs in Mumbai. The beauty about this project is that within 24 hours, I was able to get confirmation from the clubs to do these 22 toilets, and that too at the fag end of the year, when money is running thin. The generosity and understanding of our club members is amazing.”

Of these, on seven stations, totally new toilet blocks are being made, each at a cost of Rs 15 lakh, and those will be aesthetically done on modern design norms, says his core team member Virendra Widge.

Mandhania adds that these 22 toilet blocks are being done from CSR funds and money donated by individual Rotarians and would be completed before June 30.

So was it easy to get the necessary permission from the Railways?

Mandhania smiles: “Not at all; we had to struggle a lot to get the MoU signed. This project was scheduled for last year, but we could not break the ice. Then we met top officials and the sanctions were given. You have to adopt a different way of working with Government when you want to do something!”

He added that under WinS, 500 toilet blocks have been done in Panvel district and many more in Mumbai slums. “This year our District 3141 has done a total of 25 global grants and term gifts.”

Appreciative of the help and promptness from the RI/TRF staff in getting the global grants, Mandhania adds, “Of course they ask a lot of questions, which is their job, but their approach and attitude are very positive. And they answer your questions so fast; we feel they are there to solve our problems and not create new ones. It is a pleasure to deal with them.”

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RI Director Bharat Pandya is Treasurer for Rotary International for 2020-21, when Holgar Knaack will be RI President, JohritaSolari will be the Vice President and Stephanie Urchick, the Executive Committee Chair.