About three years ago, Sharad Pradhan accompanied by some foreign delegates were waiting at the Jhansi railway station when the sight of fleas thronging human and food waste lying along the railway tracks irked them.
The experience left Pradhan uncomfortable and he decided to take up a project of developing an automated scavenging vehicle to clean railway tracks.
Since 1993, manual scavenging is officially banned in India but there are scores of people still involved in the act in big cities and small towns. Without proper protective gear and safety equipment, many involved in manual scavenging even succumb while on duty.
Leading a three-member group at the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the National Institute of Technical Teachers’ Training and Research (NITTTR), Bhopal, Pradhan put together his knowledge and skills to develop a self-propelled railway track scavenging mini truck.
“The truck is installed with suction systems which can collect and store dry and wet waste separately. Once the waste is collected, there is a facility to cleanse the area using water jets, later spray the surface with disinfectants and sanitizer liquids. The whole process of cleaning a 500m to 700m long rail track can be completed within 15 minutes,” said Pradhan, who along with two Junior Research Fellows (JRF) completed the project funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) within 2.5 years.
The truck can be alternately deployed on roads in its non-scavenging mode, making it a dual purpose cleaning and waste transporting vehicle. With a capacity to collect up to 200 litres of wet waste and 500 kgs of dry waste, the dual-engine truck is loaded with 500 litres of water and 200 litres of disinfectants, this vehicle can best meet the requirements of both municipal corporations and also the railways, Pradhan said.
The trio, with the help of Indian Railways, has carried out initial trials of waste collection along roads and railways tracks but final waste collection generated near railway platforms is yet to be performed and has been pending due to the ongoing pandemic. The cost of this truck is approximately Rs 31 lakh, and a company in Ghaziabad has shown interest in developing the vehicle, said Pradhan.
The diesel-operated mini truck is easily operable and needs a driver and an assistant. As it is equipped with a display unit and a control system, it’s waste collection is fully automated and can be monitored easily, the researchers said.