This AP startup sets up free RO water units in trains

Availability of purified drinking water while travelling is a hassle for Indians who are not able to afford bottled water. Generally, we find a water purifier placed on the platforms of railway stations, which means only when a train halts, the passenger has to rush to fill up water by paying an amount.

In 2014, the Railway Board had issued a guideline for installation of RO (reverse osmosis) water purifying units in rail coaches. Many companies failed to provide a solution due to the lack of awareness about the technology to be adapted for railways.

Realising the gap to bridge between a need and technology, Pavankumar Bharadwaj founded Sociocom Teknoserv India Private Limited in December 2017, at Rajamahendravaram in Andhra Pradesh.

A Geology graduate, Bharadwaj worked for various companies before venturing to set up a startup. He comes from a family where three generations have served for the Indian railways and mother Parvathi Manohar was a scholar in devotional music and a philanthropist.

"Having a mind to understand the social need is the key factor she taught me. Sometimes, the solution can be commercial or charitable. But what is important is to serve the ones in need and that is what makes us human.

Hence this startup, Sociocom (Socially Impacting Commercial Concepts) took birth," Pavankumar Bharadwaj told The Hans India.

"Indian Railways caters to minimum two crore passengers travelling by 12,000 trains, every day. Out of them, the passengers who are financially challenged are a larger chunk.

I believe, the right for good health is equal among all," he said, explaining further, "While travelling by train, I realised that when the train crosses Andhra and moves towards Orissa, West Bengal etc, availability of drinking water is scarce.

The problem here is not for the people who can pay for bottled mineral water but for the ones who wait for a station to fill their bottles at lesser amount under restricted time among the crowd."

Bharadwaj informed about the New Innovative Non Fare Revenue Policy of the Railway Board, approached the department with his idea, 'Rail Jal,' RO purified drinking water in rail coaches.

After receiving the nod from the railways and having known that big companies failed to come with a solution, he got down to design an implementable engineering formula functional to its fullest operational capacity.

In 2018, the founder with his friends Ramesh Polisetty and Shaik Khaja Hussain on board as Directors, received technical guidance from them to develop these RO units.

Bharadwaj imported the components needed for assembling these purifiers from China.

"After having developed one unit, a practical demonstration was exercised before the railway officials. After a successful trial run for two weeks, I applied for the e-procurement tender as EOI under the Non Fare Revenue Policy of Railway Board, that was advertised by the Railway Divisional Authorities and we are proud to say that we are the only qualifiers," he said.

In one year the startup has provided 30 RO water purifiers for 10 intercity coaches of three different trains originating from Guntur. And in this period of usage, they have provided 25 litres of purified water for each hour and had only five complaints to solve.

Explaining about the functionality of the RO water purifying unit, he said, "Typically railway coaches use 110V DC power which is unsuitable for a regular commercial RO device, and as the power fluctuates between 80-130V DC based on the speed of the train, these devices are at high risk of shutting down.

Moreover, the membrane in a RO device cannot function if the climatic temperature is above 25 degrees. However, beating all these hurdles, the electronic device and RO unit designed by us utilises water from over tank of a rail coach and purifies into pure drinking water."

The tender awarded to the startup was under Commercial Mode, it means that the Indian Railways will be able to provide water and electricity source only to the company.

The startup has to provide purified drinking water for the passengers at free of cost. The founder earns his revenue through advertisements placed in the space allocated to him.

Bharadwaj has invested Rs 18 lakh for the components of the RO units, installations and daily maintenance undertaken by his three full time employees. And, with the license to display advertisements he has earned Rs 47 lakh in a year from the government of Andhra Pradesh.

He is in talks with the Southern Central Railway division for expanding his service. Bharadwaj expects the approval to come in by this year, this means that by January 2020 Sociocom would be ready to place around 180 purifiers in 14 coaches of intercity trains.

Also, by end of the year, the founder plans to come up with a water purifying product customised for the air travellers. For these expansions, the startup will be investing Rs 1.5 crore, a hurdle faced here as the founder mentions is the hesitation of investors to invest in a social impact startup.

Bharadwaj has been nominated for NEAS (National Entrepreneurship Awards) given by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, government of India, also he is nominated for the India 500 Startup Awards.

Besides, he received the Radio City Icon Award (Hyderabad) on September 28, 2019.

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