Rajkaran Exclusive: As mercury levels rise, private vendors make a killing selling packaged water at high prices on trains

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Broad daylight loot of Rs 9000 crore

Rajkaran Investigation

Mumbai: Despite the Railway Ministry’s claims about being attentive to customer problems, the rail authorities seem to have turned a blind eye to the rampant corruption in the sale of water bottles on trains.

Soaring mercury levels have led to a steep demand for bottled drinking water in trains.

While the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has capped the rates of each bottle at Rs 15, the vendors on trains – mostly un-uniformed and sans identity cards – sell the same for Rs 20 each.

According to the IRCTC Annual Report 2017-18, the company has seven ‘Rail Neer’ plants across the country which cumulatively produce 20.20 crore bottles annually. Of these, the plant at Ambernath produced 4.88 crore bottles which were supplied to railway stations in and around Mumbai.

By its own admission, the IRCTC is not able to meet the demand of packaged drinking water resulting in other brands being sold on trains and platforms.

According to sources, there is a huge gap between the production capacity of the IRCTC and the actual demand of packaged drinking water.

By a conservative estimate, the current production of the ‘Rail Neer’ plants is around 10% of the actual demand on railway stations and trains.

There is a short fall of around 50 crore bottles which is bridged by other brands sold on trains and platforms, sources said.

“This is nothing but loot of the innocent passengers who have no option but to buy the bottle at the rate charged by the vendors. Railway authorities must act against the culprits,” said Dinesh Parakh, President of Navi Mumbai Railway Association.

The magnitude of the corruption in illegal sale of water bottles on trains can be gauged from the fact that millions of passengers travel daily to and from Mumbai in 100 long distance trains.

“Considering the staggering number of rail passengers, millions of bottles are being sold daily on trains. The corruption here runs into several crores. The authorities have turned a blind eye to this for obvious reasons,” said an authority on condition of anonymity.

The IRCTC Annual Report acknowledges its shortfall in production.

“Considering the number of passengers, and the shortfall of the IRCTC’s supply, it is estimated that around 10 crore bottles are sold on railways in and around Mumbai every day.  Even if we consider that the number of bottles sold on trains is same as that of the IRCTC produces daily, it still comes to around 5 crore bottles. Thus, the corruption by way of illicit sale runs to the tune of several crores of rupees per day,” estomates Parakh.

According to sources, the wholesale rate of packaged drinking water is Rs, 8 per bottle, which then is sold for Rs. 20 per bottle on trains.

Assuming that besides the 1.70 lakh bottles manufactured by ‘Rail Neer’, an equal number of bottles of other brand are sold on trains, then this ‘annual loot’ on trains (considering an additional cost of Rs 5 per bottle) come to a whopping Rs. 93,07,500,000 per year.

Ironically, the railway administration which is more than happy to supply diapers and milk bottles to the passengers – sometimes at the drop of a hat – has preferred to pass the buck when it comes to such a huge corruption.

The complaint about the illegal sale of water bottles was reported to the railway authorities, including the Railway Minister via Twitter, on May 22. But the authorities concerned merely directed their subordinates to “look into the matter”.

According to the IRCTC, the Ambernath plant manufactures 1.70 lakh bottles per day, which are supplied from Churchgate to Vapi and Valsad on the Western Railway and from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus to Nashik, Pune and Daund on Central Railway.

“Around 14,000 cartons are supplied to this region daily. Rail Neer is the most trusted brand of the Railways besides being made mandatory for the station and mobile catering units,” said Narendra Patil, spokesperson, IRCTC.

While railway authorities continued to assert that selling bottled water for Rs. 20 on trains was illegal, there was no satisfactory answer to why the culprits were going scot free right under the noses of the authorities.

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