HOW SAFE is ‘Rail Neer’? The purity of the bottled drinking water supplied by the Indian Railways has come under the scanner of the Supreme Court, which has now put the onus on the Railways to establish its safety.
This, the top court said, has become imperative since Railways has mandated that only ‘Rail Neer’ should be sold at railway stations and trains.
While the purity of the packaged water has come under cloud, the Railways suffered another setback last week when the court allowed the Indian Railway Caterers’ Association to sell bottled water other than ‘Rail Neer’ in Mumbai division.
This order, by a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and P C Pant, effectively stays two circulars issued by Indian Railways in 2015, directing contractors and caterers to sell only ‘Rail Neer’, which is manufactured by the IRCTC.
The caterers’ association had moved the Supreme Court against the circulars, and sought liberty to sell other packaged water also. The petition cited two laboratory test reports of ‘Rail Neer’ — from a government lab in Gujarat and a lab in Ghaziabad — that raised questions about its purity.
After going through the reports, the bench sought Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar’s assistance while observing that ordering the vendors to sell only ‘Rail Neer’ could mean “double jeopardy”, since consumers may seek their prosecution over unsafe water.
Armed with separate lab test reports, the SG came back to the court and asserted that ‘Rail Neer’ was safe. He claimed that one of the previous samples was taken by the caterers’ association after the expiry period. The association’s counsel, Raju Ramachandran, however, disputed this contention and pointed out that one test report was from a government lab.
The bench then observed that a conclusive finding on the safety of ‘Rail Neer’ was needed.
“Taking into account the totality of the said facts, we direct that the operation of the circulars dated 13th October and 17th October, 2015 will not come in the way of the catering/ vending licencees in Mumbai division to stock up and deal with other brands of packaged/ bottled water, in addition to ‘Rail Neer’ … which are approved by the zonal railways,” said the court in its order on May 13.
The bench said this order would remain effective till July 5 when the matter is heard next.
In its plea, the caterers’ association argued that the order to supply only ‘Rail Neer’ violates the mandate of Article 19(1)(g), which guarantees freedom to carry out business, and restricts the choice of consumers.
On its part, the Railways maintained that the policy regarding supply and sale of packaged drinking water was evolved in 2001, and its implementation was done in phases. It said the demand for packaged drinking water could now be met departmentally or from sources like IRCTC alone.