The Kerala Water Authority’s proposal to bring out packaged drinking water has gone awry.

The construction of a production plant at Aruvikkara in Thiruvananthapuram was stalled after the contractor backed out of the project.

The project was launched during the tenure of the previous Left Democratic Front (LDF) government at an estimated cost of Rs. 313 lakh. The plant with the capacity to produce 90,000 litres of water a day was to facilitate automatic bottling, labelling and packaging of water.

P.S. Rajendra Babu, technical member of KWA, claimed that some work had been done in connection with the production plant and the contractor had presented an exorbitant bill, which the government had rejected. “We are now in the process of preparing a new detailed project report for setting up a more modern and extensive plant,” Mr. Babu told The Hindu.

N.K. Premachandran, water resources minister in the LDF government, however, disputed this claim. “Our government had launched the construction work of the production plant after preparing a detailed project report. So where is the need for a fresh one? Instead, the present government could have opted for a revised estimate and then gone for a fresh tender,” he said. The LDF government had planned to set up plants in Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, and Kozhikode before going on to have similar facilities in all 14 districts, Mr. Premachandran said.

Mr. Babu said bottled drinking water was one of the major projects envisaged under the new Kerala Drinking Water Supply Company Ltd. (KDWSCL) modelled after the Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL). The new company would have the Water Resources Minister as the chairman, with the State government and the KWA holding 26 per cent and 23 per cent shares respectively.

“Drinking water in bottles and jars, and selling quality drinking water for supply through water tankers are some of the main projects envisaged under the new company,” Mr. Babu said.

Mr. Premachandran alleged that the move to torpedo KWA’s packaged drinking water project as envisaged by the previous government and to bring it under the new company was a ploy instigated by a lobby of the bottled drinking water companies. “Now the project will remain in the public sector, while it will be the private companies that will reap profits,” he said.

The initial idea by the former government was to bring out 200ml pouches and bottles ranging from 200 ml to 2 litres. The KWA brand had planned to fend off market competition through competitive pricing.

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