Railways Celebrates Environment Day, but Key Green Projects Remain in Slow Lane

Multiple projects aimed at reducing fossil fuel consumption and waste management have moved at a snail’s pace.

New Delhi: Even as the Indian Railways celebrates World Environment Day with much fanfare, a number of initiatives taken by the national transporter on the green front have struggled to take off over the past few years.

Multiple projects aimed at reducing fossil fuel consumption and increasing the national transporter’s reliance on solar and wind power have moved at a snail’s pace, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

These include initiatives aimed at disposing tonnes of solid waste generated at train stations, the increased use of electric locomotives and tapping into alternative sources of energy to light up workshops and other railway facilities.

For example, the much-talked-about project for setting up technical plants that would convert municipal solid waste into energy has remained in pilot mode for the last three years. The Indian Railways has been identified as a ‘bulk waste generator’ and produces more than 2,000 tonnes of refuse daily.

Also Read: What Can You, the Individual, Do to Fight Air Pollution?

As part of its solid waste management strategy, pilot plants are being set up at Jaipur and New Delhi stations with the aim of converting biodegradable waste to energy through a bio-methane process. The idea was that energy generated from these plants would be utilised at train stations and nearby rail premises.

However, the plants are yet to be fully functional and as a result, the plan for more such plants at various other busy stations in the next phase is also in the slow lane. The government had planned to set up municipal solid waste management centres at about 15 stations.

In January 2015, the national transporter had set up a separate environment directorate to coordinate all green management initiatives across the Indian Railways.

Since then, it has initiated steps for energy efficiency, renewable and alternative energy, water conservation, afforestation and waste management among others. However, the execution in each individual area has not been carried out efficiently.

Admitting slow execution as a problem, a senior railways official told The Wire: “The waste-to-energy plant is a comparatively new technology and we have to confront several issues for its operation at Jaipur and New Delhi.”

The official claimed the plant is operational at a small scale in Jaipur and all the issues have been sorted out now. “We hope it would take off now and after a successful pilot project, more such plants would come up at major stations,” the official added.

15 stations will have solid waste management plants. Credit: PTI

As far as new and renewable energy is concerned, though railways has launched the solar mission in 2015-16 Budget and planned to set up 1,000 MW of solar power, it has so far been able to generate 82 MW only.

Preparations are afoot to set up solar plants at various vacant railways land, said the above-quoted official, adding that the roofs of station buildings, platforms and workshops are also being considered.

On the electric locomotive front, the national transporter has made some headway, but is far from what they would have liked to achieve by 2019.

The Indian Railways, on average, consumes about 30 lakh kilo litres of fuel in a year for hauling diesel locomotives. Though it has intensified its drive to electrify the entire broad gauge routes and many diesel locos have been replaced with electric ones, there has been only a small reduction of fuel consumption.  

Also Read: India’s Rail Routes are Being Electrified, But Electric Locos Still Can’t Run On All of Them

The Wire has also learnt that though many routes are shown as electrified on record, diesel locos are still being used to haul trains on these half-completed electrified tracks. In November 2018, The Wire was the first to report how a lack of substations and adequate power supply were throwing a wrench in the Centre’s electrification plans.

On June 6, as part of the World Environment Day celebrations, the railway ministry under Piyush Goyal launched a mobile app to monitor cleanliness on trains. It will centre around the on-board housekeeping service (OBHS) on important trains.

The transporter also unveiled a ‘Environmental Sustainability Report 2019’ as part of its official celebrations.  

Arun Kumar Das is a senior journalist and can be contacted at [email protected]