Monday, March 9, 2009

Safety concerns over packaged water-Bangalore-Cities-The Times of India

Safety concerns over packaged water-Bangalore-Cities-The Times of India
N A Afsal, a resident of Fraser Town, has been buying 20-litre water barrels for the past five years. He never checks the
certification. Afsal realized something was wrong when his children fell ill frequently.

"Our locality didn't have Cauvery water supply for over five years. Most of us were dependent on the mineral water barrels but I don't remember checking for the ISI mark. As our children would fall ill often, we resorted to boiling the water," he says.

He's not the only one. The majority of households in Bangalore's periphery use mineral water for cooking and drinking. For washing and other purposes, they tap borewell water.

These barrels sourced from the neighbouring kirana stores are sometimes their only source of drinking water. Packaged drinking water industries are making skyrocketing profits as the city reels under scarcity. Their wait for water supply could last for a few more years.

How safe is this water? From where is it sourced? Who approves it?

The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) issued about 148 licences in Karnataka to packaged drinking water companies, of whom 100 are in Bangalore. These companies have their own borewells and treatment plants but the BIS monitoring system that involves inspecting the plants twice a year shows that 20-30% flout directions.

According to S Ranganathan, who handles certification of packaged drinking water at BIS Bangalore, of those companies which flout parameters, 99% don't follow hygienic manufacturing conditions and this could have serious health impact. Also, a major chunk of producers don't have any certification at all.

"We pinned down 40 firms recently for manufacturing packaged drinking water without licences. We raided the firms and booked cases against them. Not all companies have ISI marks and sometimes they don't follow the regulations," says BIS scientist M Sadasivam.

A leading producer of packaged mineral water serves over 5,800 households, at Rs 75 per barrel, in Koramangala and Indiranagar. Ravikant Hulsure, marketing manager, says he has seen a steady rise in demand since 2001. "The 20-litre barrels give us a better profit margin than 1-litre bottles. The demand is increasing in East and South Bangalore, so we are focusing on that segment." Other small manufacturers, who supply to 100-150 households in a locality on a regular basis, say that even if they have Cauvery water, people tend to rely on packaged water. A family orders 2-3 barrels per week.

According to BWSSB sources, the city is desperately short of water. The 870 MLD of water supplied every day reaches the core areas and at least 72 of the 225 wards in former CMCs and TMCs. Efforts are on to augment the supply but the crisis is here to stay. The Cauvery 4th Stage project will generate another 500 MLD of water which is the current deficit, according to BWSSB sources, but the Rs 3,400 crore project will kick off only in 2011.

Water woes:

* As per Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules of 2001, ISI mark is mandatory on packaged drinking water barrels and bottles

* BIS sources say 20-30% companies that manage to get ISI mark flout standards when checked after a year or so

* Most consumers still don't check for ISI marks

* Proximity of supply and water shortage are major concerns

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