New Delhi: The Delhi High Court Wednesday issued notice to the central government on a plea seeking improvement in the quality of drinking water in Indian Railways and a probe into alleged manipulation while awarding contracts for supply of chlorination plants.
A division bench of Acting Chief Justice B.D. Ahmed and Justice Siddharth Mridul sought response from the railway ministry and Northern Railway general manager by May 14, the next date of hearing.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation, told the court that the railway ministry has been failing to supply safe and wholesome drinking water to millions of rail passengers besides staff who live in railway colonies.
"Records which have come to light recently show that water quality has been very unsatisfactory for the past several years, and the rate of failure of water samples in the tests of water quality is extremely high," Bhushan contended.
The plea said lives of innumerable people are being put in peril due to the lackadaisical approach on the part of the authorities concerned.
It said the water treatment infrastructure for disinfection by chlorination has almost completely collapsed and level of contamination in the entire supply network from the source to the top was alarming.
"There are serious deficiencies in the water quality testing and monitoring in the railways, with the result that despite an extremely high rate of sample failure in tests of water quality, no action is taken to protect the consumers from risks of water-borne diseases," the plea said.
Alleging irregularities in awarding of contract for supply of chlorination plants by the government and neglect of supply of good water quality, the plea sought a court monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team or Central Bureau of Investigation.
It said a highly objectionable method has been used to award contracts to a particular manufacturer of chlorination plants.
"Serious irregularities in the award of contracts for supply of chlorination plants have also come to light. In fact, the failure of the railways to provide working chlorination plants for past several years is the most important cause of the poor quality of water," the petition stated.
In November 2013, the chief engineer sent officials to carry out inspections at major stations where chlorination was outsourced to contractors.
The inspection showed unsatisfactory condition of chlorination plants, and several plants were found to be under complete breakdown, the petition said.
"Serious irregularities in operation and maintenance of the plants were also revealed. Basic records such as daily log books were not being maintained, and there was strong evidence that records were being manipulated to falsely show that the plants were carrying out chlorination properly."
Examination of records also indicated that the plants were put in operation without properly carrying out necessary initial validation tests to check the soundness of the design and performance capabilities, it added.