Safe potable water scarcity in trains: Par panel

New Delhi: Scarcity of packaged water in long distance trains and unsealed water bottles at railway stations are some of the findings of a parliamentary committee report tabled in Parliament today. Expressing concern over the availability of safe drinking water at stations and trains, the Standing Committee on Railways has asked the Railways to take effective steps to ensure safe potable water to passengers.

Taking note of the existence of unauthorised vending in trains and stations, the committee has observed unauthorsied vending not only causes loss of revenue to railways but also poses a health hazard for passengers. During their visits to various places, the committee members have found that at most of the stations, normal tap water stored in tanks is used for drinking purposes.

The committee, headed by T R Baalu, also found scarcity of water bottles in some long distance trains. "Supply of water bottles without labels of manufacturing and expiry dates and even unsealed water bottles were also found," the report said. Railways apprised the committee that with a view to supplying packaged drinking water in trains and stations, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has set up two plants at Nangloi and Danapur. Besides, railways is working on six more projects for providing drinking water and the standard terms of documents are getting finalised.

While appreciating the same, the committee said setting up of these projects should be expedited. The 31-member committee recommended periodic surprise inspections at selling points to keep check on sale of unlabelled water bottles. It also recommended provision of RO system be made mandatory at all railway stations to ensure supply of safe drinking water to passengers. Recommending action against defaulting contractors, the panel suggested for strengthening of the complaint mechanism with every complaint being attended.

"Besides imposing heavy penalties on the defaulting contractors, concept of blacklisting of persistence defaulters should also be introduced," the report said. The parliamentary committee is distressed to note that though the new catering policy was issued in July 2010, it is being implemented at a very slow pace. During the committee members` visit to Ahmadabad, Goa, Bangalore and Mysore during May 2011, the panel observed there were certain problems being faced by the zonal railways in taking over catering services from IRCTC, including shortage of staff, litigation by contractors and lack of specialised manpower with railways.

The committee recommended all these issues should be identified and sorted out expeditiously and steps be taken for effective implementation of the policy within a specified time frame. The panel also recommended that hygiene should also be of paramount importance to the Railways and it should invariably be a part of the catering policy. The committee has asked railways to ensure that adequate catering facilities are available to the travelling public, simultaneously ensuring that there is no congestion on platforms.

The plan for catering unit at each station should be implemented and its should be closely monitored regularly, the panel recommended. Though the committee appreciated contention of Railways that it is the social responsibility of the national transporter to provide food to the passengers at affordable prices, the panel cautioned it not to compromise with the quality of food.

Taking note of the absence of pantry cars in some trains, the committee desires that pantry cars should invariably be provided in all long distance trains, which have a running time exceeding 16 hours, at the earliest. The committee said the Railways should put in place a scientific quality control mechanism for food served on trains.