A racket that used to steal water from an Ambernath-based dam owned by the Railways and sell it at high prices at construction sites and to factories was busted by the Railway Protection Force (RPF) on Friday and a tanker driver was arrested.
The century-old Railways-owned dam from where the water was being stolen, using pipes, was turned into a water-bottling plant in 2014. Nearly two lakh bottles of Rail Neer was produced daily at the plant. The Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) that produced the Rail Neer paid the Railways 40 paise per litre for the water, an official said.
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RPF sub-inspector Subhash Thakur who led the raid said that they arrested a tanker driver, Hanumnat Ilam, from the Anandnagar area of Ambernath. “Thakur had parked his tanker near the dam, owned by the railways. Through pipes that were camouflaged in the greenery surrounding the dam, the water was being transferred to the tanker. When we arrested the driver, nearly 4,000 litres of water had already been transferred to the tanker which had a 9,000-litre capacity,” Thakur said. He added that the owner of the tanker would be arrested soon.
An officer from the RPF said that so far in their probe, they had found that the accused, mostly local villagers, would take water from the dam in tankers and sell it at high prices to the new factories in the MIDC area in Ambernath. They would sell each tanker for Rs 800.
An officer said that they suspected this happened earlier, too, but considering the water crisis, there were higher profits to be made now by selling the dam water. “They could sell the water at high prices as it is in demand everywhere. Hence they started stealing more and more water,” the officer said.
However, the IRCTC employees, working at a factory, where the water was purified and put into bottles, saw the tankers along the dam. Initially when they approached the local police, they were not entertained, citing jurisdiction issues.
“Eventually, the IRCTC realised that the RPF had a law to take action in such cases,” the officer said. Under the Railway Property (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1996, Section 3 (A), which deals with stolen railway property, the IRCTC could arrest the accused. On May 1, the IRCTC officials approached the RPF that allotted guards to secure the dam.
On May 8, the Ambernath RPF found a tanker stealing water from the dam. The tanker was seized and the driver and a person accompanying him were placed under arrest. “We had found 8,000 litres of water in the tanker, worth Rs 4,000, as per the rate the IRCTC paid the Railways,” an RPF officer said.
Since the tanker drivers would by and large make trips at night, the RPF officials started guarding the dam at night.
“Assuming that there would be no RPF official during the day, the tanker driver came to the dam and was subsequently arrested,” an officer said.
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When contacted, Mohan Patil, one of the owners of the water tanker seized on Friday, said that they were not stealing water from the dam but had dug a pit in their area to get water. “Since the pit is next to the dam, they assumed that we were stealing water. We needed the water for construction work at a temple in our village which does not have a big water tank. The rest of the water was to be given to the cows,” Patil told The Indian Express.