Need drinking water at airports, at normal cost
Considering that it is airport security that prevents passengers from bringing bottled water, it is the responsibility of the Airports Authority of India to ensure availability of safe drinking water to all passengers, free of cost.
For several years now, consumers have been fighting a losing battle against the sale of bottled water at exorbitant prices at airports. The steep price is particularly pinching when passengers are victims of delayed flights and are forced to buy these bottles at prices that are five to six times more than what one pays outside.
Considering that it is airport security that prevents passengers from bringing bottled water, it is the responsibility of the Airports Authority of India to ensure availability of safe drinking water to all passengers, free of cost. In fact as soon as a passenger crosses the security area, she or he should be able to access free drinking water. In the absence of such a facility, consumers have no option but to buy water at formidable prices . Similarly, when airlines announce delays in take off, they must immediately provide water bottles to the passengers. That should be mandated by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. But unfortunately, neither has taken this responsibility with the seriousness that it deserves , thereby exposing consumers to the machinations of the airport outlets.
In fact so far, the union ministry of consumer affairs has been coming to the aid of consumers but without success, because the manufacturers and retailers of bottled water have thwarted every effort of the ministry to ensure the availability of water at reasonable prices. In the initial years, airport outlets brazenly sold water bottles at prices far above the maximum retail price (MRP) marked on the bottles. As consumer complaints reached a crescendo, the state legal metrology departments began to take action against them under Rule 18 (2) of Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities ) Rules, which prohibits their sale at a price higher than the printed price.
So in order to circumvent the law, manufacturers began to pack bottles specifically for airports, with an inflated MRP. As consumer complaints over this dual pricing mounted, the consumer affairs ministry brought in an amendment to the Packaged Commodities rules (effective from January 1, 2018), prohibiting such dual pricing . But the relief to consumers was short lived because once again, the manufacturers and retailers have found a way out— they are now selling highly priced new brands, obviously meant only for the airports.
I have noticed another change at airports. Water is now sold mostly by restaurants and even if they sell above the MRP marked on the bottle, there is very little one can do in view of the Supreme Court judgment of December 2017 in Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India Vs Union of India (CA No 21790 of 2017), holding that Legal Metrology Act does not apply to hotels and restaurants.
So all in all, it has been a no-win situation for the consumer so far. But it need not remain so. Given the fact that water is a basic necessity, the aviation industry has a duty to provide potable drinking water to all travellers free of cost inside the airport. This can be done through adequate number of water fountains and coolers fitted with water purifiers. Airports can also install at short distances, water bottle vending machines that dispense bottled water at prices sold outside the airport. And these should be easily accessible to passengers and there should be proper signs indicating their location.
In Rupasi Multiplex Vs Mautusi Chaudhuri (RP NO 3972 of 2014, decided on August 10, 2015), the apex consumer court directed multiplexes and cinema halls to provide safe and potable drinking water for free and said if this is not done, the owner of the cinema hall would be liable to pay appropriate compensation for the deficiency in rendering services to the cinema-goers. The same principle should apply to airports too.