It was feared for a long time that tap water at railway platforms was not potable. And now the Bureau of Indian Standards has come up with the finding that the water on platforms in northern states and the railways’ staff quarters is indeed unfit for consumption, contaminated with bacteria found in human excreta at that. The tentative explanation for this is that half the railways’ 541 chlorination plants in northern states are not working. This could be an indication that the problem is widespread and has been there for a long time because about 270 chlorination plants (about half of 541) cannot give out at the same time.
Anyone who is familiar with the railways knows who drinks from the taps at platforms or is likely to do so. It is not passengers but those whose livelihood depends on the amount of time they spend on platforms, such as porters, or shoeshine boys, or fruit juice sellers. All the three categories comprise people who are not well-heeled by any stretch of the imagination. Any exposure to such a health hazard would mean for them a medical expenditure that can make their already indigent condition far worse. The first victims of any malfunctioning system are the poor.
What then is the way out? First, it needs to be found where the bad water is coming from. Once the sources of contamination have been identified, water supply from those locations needs to stop immediately. And then the government needs to fix the chlorination plants that are not working. But until that happens, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation should be entrusted with safe water supply.