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The Potty Path

'Even if the Indian Railways does invest crores of rupees to install at least 1.6 lakh 'green' and, presumably, clean toilets in all the coaches of its vast network in the next 10 years, it is unlikely that the corrosion of tracks will stop entirely. For, it is not only passengers who leave something of themselves behind on the tracks as they take those interminable journeys.

One of the enduring sights of tracks in India are the number of people in the hinterland who seem to prefer to carry out their morning ablutions in the vicinity of the steel rails, though why this open-to-view option is so favoured has never been definitively ascertained.

This may be the key to resolving the issue, along with a parallel scheme of making conventional toilets a must-want in rural areas. Of course, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh has rued that women apparently covet mobile phones more than toilets; if true, that desire would probably not be gender-specific, and may be spurred by the fact that the former costs considerably less than the latter to buy and use.

The stopping of this practice, however, could have unforeseen ecological consequences of an entirely different nature, too. A researcher has posited this month, for instance, that wild elk could be saved from instant death along Norway's railway tracks if the coaches' toilet tanks are opened out on the remote stretches. As these animals abhor the stink of human excrement, they would be repelled from coming anywhere near the lines by this very cost-effective method.

Many animals in India could also be unwitting beneficiaries of our penchant for scatological dissemination, so any plans to put a stop to the practice should be preceded by in-depth studies of the impact it may have on other life, wild and otherwise.'

- Economic Times


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