The Bombay High Court on Wednesday said there should be no compromise on the quality of drinking water sold at railway stations and commuters should be able to buy brands of their choice.
A Division Bench of Justices Naresh Patil and M.S. Sonak was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) by Lopesh Vohra.
The plea petition said commuters could not exercise freedom of choice owing to a circular issued by railway authorities directing contractors and caterers to put up stalls selling Rail Neer — the packaged drinking water manufactured and supplied by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
The PIL also questioned Rail Neer’s quality and stated that the water, available only in 750 ml and one litre bottles, was substandard and contaminated and did not follow safety norms laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authorities of India. Advocate Rui Rodrigues, appearing for the petitioner, said non-availability of other drinking water brands posed a problem to commuters. Mr Rodrigues said at Mumbai Central railway station only Rail Neer was being sold.
Advocate Usha Srivastava, representing IRCTC, said, “This practice is seen only in places where there are water plants. The Railways is facing gross loss as Rail Neer bottles are lying unused at godowns.”
She said measures were in place to ensure quality control and commuters always had the option of buying water from outlets outside the station.
However, the Bench said, “If food of different brands and varieties are available at railway stations then why not water? If the Railways’ contention is that IRCTC is facing loss, then a complimentary bottle of Rail Neer should be offered with each ticket to encourage people to buy it.”
The Bench also observed that water was a basic necessity and quality control inspectors had to get their act together.
The court suggested the authority to manufacture 500 ml bottles, which would be handy for commuters. The matter has been adjourned for four weeks.