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Ghulam Nabi Azad directs FSSAI to keep a tab on quality of packaged water
Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Ashwani Maindola, New Delhi, and Abhitash Singh, Mumbai
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Taking cognisance of the complaints about the quality of packaged drinking water sold in the National Capital Region (NCR), health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has written to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the country's apex food regulator, directing it to check the bottling plants supplying packaged drinking water and the sources of the water.

The directive specifically pertained to the formation of surveillance teams to check the chemical content of water. It must be noted that there are standards set by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for the microbiological formation of the packaged water. BIS has set up limits for chemicals and heavy metals, in addition to other norms.

Ground water remains the source, but the process from purifying to bottling differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. According to the experts, the one- and two-litre variants of bottled water are generally safe. But in the cases of the 20-litre bottles and the mini-pouches, the chances of selling contaminated water are bright.

K C Chaudhary of Consumer Voice said, “There are serious flaws in bottling in the cases of the 20-litre bottles and pouches. Ground water is the source, but one of our previous studies, undertaken a few years ago, revealed that the norms were flouted as far as the 20-litre bottle was concerned.” He added that many of the samples failed during the testing, adding that the problem remained persistent, because the authorities responsible of implementing the regulations were not able to enforce it.

FnB News tried to contact some packaged water manufacturers in NCR, they refused to comment on their practices. Reports of these malpractices, which have emerged at a time when market research firms like Ikon Marketing Consultants estimate that packaged drinking water industry, which is growing at about 19 per cent per annum and could touch the Rs 10,000 crore-mark, are definitely a blow.

IBA

The Indian Beverage Association has welcomed the health ministry's directive to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the country's apex food regulator, to look into the details of manufacturing practices of packaged water in the National Capital Region (NCR). Arvind Verma, general secretary, Indian Beverage Association (IBA), said the industry would comply with all the guidelines issued by the government, the industry.

Residential areas - New water hubs

Residential areas have emerged as the new hubs for unauthorised local packaged water units, whose proprietors are cashing in on the growing demand for bottled water and the failure of most municipal corporations in the country to meet it.

The fact that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) – the country's apex food regulator – has paid no heed to health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad's instruction that the water manufactured in these unauthorised units be checked yet has emboldened the business operators.

In India's metropolitan cities, the owners of several apartments have an arrangement with the operators of these locally-bottled drinking water units, who supply them twenty-litre cans of water every alternate day.

Mumbai

When quizzed about the inferior quality of packaged drinking water, a spokesperson for Bisleri said on the condition of anonymity, “The demand for packaged drinking water is increasing day by day. Since branded companies cannot reach everywhere, many unauthorised local packaged drinking water units are mushrooming everywhere, and thus, while the quantity increases, the quality is becoming a major issue.”

Santosh Shetty, who owns a packaged drinking water unit in Andheri, said, “Although there have been several complaints about the quality of packaged drinking water, we tie up with banks, malls and other commercial establishments to supply water at their doorsteps. The two key factors for these establishments are necessity and convenience. People are happy when they get water at their doorsteps and do not mind shelling extra money.”

Hyderabad
The Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWS&SB) has failed to meet the drinking water demand for the last two months. Packaged drinking water units are doing brisk business in Uppal, Secunderabad, Alwal, Dilsukhnagar and Malkajgiri (the worst-affected areas).

Indore

The bottled water consumed by the people of Indore, either at home or outside, is not necessarily drinkable, as it may not be processed complying with the standard procedure. The packaged water one may be consuming could possibly just be tap water or ground water. Out of nearly 53 bottling plants supplying packaged water in the city, only 18 were found to have ISI certificates.

With the summers setting in, leading to water shortage, the consumption of packaged drinking water has shot up in the city. According to estimates, the city consumes anywhere between 30,000 and 40,000 bottles (of 20-litre capacity) of water per day.

Several families, especially in areas like Regal, Palsia, Shrinagar, Tukoganj, Vijay Nagar and Scheme Number 54, the colonies on Ring Road and in the outskirts of the city, depend on packaged drinking water.

Speaking to FnB News, Vijay Agrawal, secretary, Packaged Drinking Water Association, said, “Most of these illegal plants just fill 20-litre jars with tap water or ground water and sell it as processed drinking water.”

Tapash Saraswati, a hydrogeologist, stated, “The market is filled with sub-standard packaged drinking water. Also present among them are duplicates of branded packaged drinking water. People are being fooled on the name of packaged water. The food department should take action against these bottling plants and random checks should be brought into practice.”

Manish Swami, food safety officer from Indore, informed, “Illegal water packaging plants are operating on the outskirts of the city in areas like Ring Road, Saver Road, Dushara Maidan, etc. Most of the people from these area use ground water.”

The owners of unauthorised packaged drinking water units earn huge profits. In the case of standard mineral water processing plants, the investment is around Rs 20 lakh. However, most players freely supply water without any certification. So it costs them just Rs 1-2 lakh to set up a water packaging unit.

Surendra Chouhan, a water supplier from the city, said, “There is so much demand for packaged water, that it hardly matters whether it is certified or not. Even people do not ask about certification of water.”
 
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