Water ATMS: Causing a Silent Revolution

It was a hot summer afternoon in New Delhi, India, and Mr. Siya Ram, the Group General Manager of Rail Neer, the packaged water brand of Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd (IRCTC), was having his lunch in his office on the 11th floor of The Statesman House, the corporate headquarters of IRCTC.

His eyes fell on a group of 10–12 people crowding a road-side stall buying bottled chilled water to quench their thirst.

His thoughts flew back to the event yesterday, where he launched an Automatic Water Vending Machine at the New Delhi railway station, a product developed for the Indian Railways (IR) by private manufacturers. The vending machine made purified and chilled drinking water available to customers at busy platforms of railway stations, dispensing different amounts ranging from 300 ml to 5 l with an option to collect the water in a packaged or a refill option.

As he cast his eyes again on the road-side stall selling water, now teeming with a different set of people, he wondered if he was on the verge of a solution that provided clean drinking water at public places in India.

He rued that despite 70 years of independence; a large population still lacked access to clean drinking water and were either exploited by corporations or forced to use water of suspect quality. The huge volume of people traveling by IR on a daily basis made him hope that intervention by railways in the packaged drinking water segment could harbinger change across geographies and societies in the country. He, therefore, felt that this was an opportunity for the IR to revolutionize this product category.
With this came about Water ATMs at the Indian Railways.

The challenges in providing affordable clean water to the masses—

Ø  The water ATM project was not a priority for the officials at railway stations.
Ø  They had to meet their daily responsibilities and neither IRCTC nor the vendors chosen by IRCTC to implement water ATMs had an authority to enforce the agreement at the local level.
Ø  In addition, railway stations stood to gain only 15 percent of the revenues generated through water ATMs.
Ø  Vendors had begun losing interest and were now reluctant to apply for new licenses.
Ø  Pressure from seniors to install water ATMs at a large number of railway stations.
His long experience in the railways told him that the solution was in managing relationships on a day-to-day basis at ground zero. He needed to put in place a framework within which the relationships could be managed. The legacy of IR of more than 100 years had built-in a rigidity in the system that was difficult to shake off.

Click here to know how these challenges were overcome with grit and confidence of a man.

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