July 6, 2022

In this scorching heat, the water-vending machines at railway stations could have quenched the thirst of thousands of suburban train commuters, but far from doing so, they have become the proverbial white elephant. Most of them are dry, defunct and awaiting maintenance as they continue to occupy space on the platforms and station premises.

Left high and dry, commuters now simply walk past these bulky vending machines which have been locked. Notices pasted on the machines state that they aren’t in working condition. These machines were introduced by the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), on both the Central and Western Railways.

There are around 80 water-vending machines (WVMs) on Central Railway and more than 50 on Western Railway which are defunct. Senior railway officials said that these WVMs were installed by the IRCTC and it is their responsibility to restart them. However, the IRCTC claims that it is Railways that has taken over.

“We are not reviving tenders or giving contracts to vendors for new WVMs. These have been handed over to the Railways,” said Rahul Himalian, Group General Manager, Western Region, IRCTC.

With both sides washing their hands of this situation, it is the hapless passenger who is the worst-hit, in the midst of a heatwave.

Railway authorities claim that there is no written communication from the IRCTC about the handover of these WVMs, that these continue to be under their (IRCTC) possession and it’s their responsibility as well. Sources said that bills of over Rs 50 lakh or so from various contractors who were running these WVMs remain pending.

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Officials claimed that these WVMs will be auctioned and the money will be recovered. Recently, the IRCTC and Indian Railways were squabbling over the running of food plazas and fast-food units at railway stations.

Subhash Gupta, president, Rail Yatri Parishad said: “All through the Covid period, these water-vending machines lay idle. And now that things are normalising, the railways or the IRCTC should have started repairing them. People are struggling in the scorching heat.”

Nandkumar Deshmukh, president, Federation of Suburban Rail Passengers, echoed the sentiment: “Passengers are suffering in this summer heat. The rail authorities should have started the maintenance works for these WVMs.”

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Published on: Thursday, March 17, 2022, 07:00 AM IST