Environmental conservation: A new ‘way of life’ for Indian Railways

5 June 2021

By Piyush Goyal @PiyushGoyal | Original publication: The Times of India


Our ancient heritage gives great importance to the environment. A common theme in our ancient texts and literature is to caution against environmental degradation. In the Atharva Veda, Mother Earth is addressed directly – "May whatever we dig from you, grow back again quickly, and may we not injure you by our labour."


The world too has woken up to the grave reality of climate change and its negative impact on our everyday lives. Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has consistently advocated strong action to protect the environment. Under his leadership, India has played a pivotal role in the success of the COP-21 Paris Climate Conference held in November 2015. He also introduced the concept of ‘Climate Justice & Sustainable Lifestyle,’ which is now a cornerstone in the global effort to mitigate climate risks.


Photo: Indian Railways


The fight against climate change requires ambitious goals with detailed planning and actions to achieve them. The Swachh Bharat mission is an example of such a holistic programme to safeguard our environment, health and well-being. Indian Railways has undertaken several transformative initiatives to inculcate principles of environmental conservation, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness in our day-to-day operations.


From 2014 onwards, the pace of railway electrification has increased by nearly 10 times. As on 1 May 2021, 71 per cent of the Broad-Gauge network has been electrified and by December 2023, we will achieve 100 per cent electrification, the first large rail network in the world to do so.

This single decision, while not visible to the average railway traveller, will reduce pollution, save costs, increase speeds and build an Aatmanirbhar Bharat by reducing our dependence on imported oil. The Railways have embarked on an ambitious program to be 100 per cent powered by clean energy by December 2030 and become the world’s first Net-Zero Railway.


A few years ago, had someone pointed to the rooftop of a railway station and said, "We will use that sunlight to power our stations and trains one day!”, one would have only received an expression of disbelief in return.


However, today, Indian Railways has redefined its role as an ‘enabler’ and has already established solar rooftop plants at over 1,000 stations and 400 service buildings. Taking the ‘Green’ revolution forward, 100 per cent LED replacement has been done at all stations, offices and residences of the Railways. Further, 39 workshops, 7 production units, 8 loco sheds and 1 store depot have been ‘GreenCo’ certified.


Photo: Yash Bhardwaj on Unsplash


In 2014, when we assessed the operations of the Indian Railways, we realised that the age-old problem of human excreta on railway tracks not only impacted everyday operations but also the staff involved in scavenging. Through the installation of bio-toilets in the entire fleet of coaches, we have eliminated nearly 4,000 tonnes of excreta dropping on the tracks daily, making them safer, saving on maintenance costs and reducing 5.4 million litres of water consumption every day. The foul smell from the rail tracks has become a thing of the past. More importantly, we have restored dignity to those who spent their lives carrying the burden of being a manual scavenger. To further save water, Automatic Coach Washing Plants are now being installed at major depots. The exterior of coaches are cleaned much more efficiently; also reducing water consumption by an astounding 96 per cent i.e. annual saving of 12.8 million kilolitres of water.


We all know the Prime Minister is very concerned about nature and wildlife conservation. One morning, he gave me a very unique suggestion. He heard that elephants are scared of honey bees and tend to run away at the sound of bees. He asked me to see if this could be used to reduce the accidents of elephants on rail tracks. “Plan Bee” was initiated to use honey bee sound to divert the elephants away from the tracks.


Due to this plan, elephant accidents have been significantly reduced. From 2017 up to May 2021, over 950 elephants have been saved.

Our commitment to the environment is also reflected in our initiatives for the passengers, from replacing plastic cups with kulhads to recycling plastic waste generated at stations through the installation of plastic bottle crushing machines. Paper timetables, reservation charts and tickets have been replaced by mobile apps.


Railways are the most environment-friendly system of public transport. Through the National Rail Plan 2030, we are focused on increasing our freight share from 27 per cent to 45 per cent. The introduction of double-stack container trains and construction of the Dedicated Freight Corridors will accelerate this journey towards a low-carbon future.


Mahatma Gandhi had said, "The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So we have to hand over to them at least as it was handed over to us." Through these initiatives, Indian Railways is paying a tribute to one of its most famous passengers. As we celebrate World Environment Day, let us pledge to make environmental conservation a way of life for all through the collective efforts of 135 crore Indians. Be assured that Indian Railways, as always, will be on this journey with you.


Author

Piyush Goyal is the Minister of Railways, Commerce & Industry, and Consumer Affairs and Food & Public Distribution, Government of India.