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Updated: April 10, 2013 19:34 IST

Vanishing act

Somesh Jha
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Cold comfort: A water cart at Jantar Mantar. Photo: V.V.Krishnan
The Hindu
Cold comfort: A water cart at Jantar Mantar. Photo: V.V.Krishnan

‘Machine ka thanda pani’ is slowly losing its market to packaged drinking water

With the onset of summer, the unkind sun is upon us again. Respite from the blistering heat for people on the road comes in the form of lime juice, shikanji, sherbets, and, of course, water.

As I walked through the lanes of Old Delhi, I looked out for the ‘machine ka thanda pani’ stalls, almost in vain. Just as I was about to give in to the temptations of bottled water, I found a refrigerated water cart.

I went to the vendor and asked him for a glass of water. In these times of inflation, even the price of a single glass of water has gone up to Rs.2. Earlier, a rupee could fetch us two glasses of chilled water.

“Our market is diminishing now. We don’t even earn Rs.150 per day nowadays and hence, we are helpless,” said Laljeet, a vendor. One of the reasons for this is the growing popularity of packaged drinking water, priced anywhere between Rs. 10 and 60. Rahul Chowdhary, a Vikaspuri resident, said that he finds no harm in buying water at a higher price as he chooses not to put his health at stake.

But Raj Kumar Gupta, a vendor from Benaras who has a water cart near the New Delhi railway station, said, “People take packaged drinking water. They think it is expensive and hence, it must be safer but they do not know that we also take water from authorised plants. Water purity does not depend on its price tag.”

Ashwani Kumar Mehta, who is in business for the last 35 years, explained, “People are losing faith as they sometimes complain about its bitter taste. Hearing them, other customers go away. We have lodged several complaints at NDMC about the saline nature of water. They do not change the water on our demand and hence, for our survival, we are compelled to keep packaged water as well.”

To cater to such a differentiated market, we now have ‘hybrid carts’ where vendors sell mineral and machine water.

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