In the last year, nearly 50 packaged drinking water units have come up around the city, an indicator of the growing demand for the product, predominantly from households. However, this has not meant an improvement in customer satisfaction with regard to the quality of water supplied.

The number of packaged drinking water units around the city has gone up from 220 during January 2010 to 270 this year. Packaged drinking water in 20-litre bubble-top cans account for a chunk of the sale in the city.

Packaged water has become an integral part of kitchens. Some residents like V.Saraswathi of Koyambedu said that they have been using the same brand for over three years because of the quality. The price of the water sold varied in different localities. “I ask for a specific brand as the quality is good,” she said.

R.Angeline, a resident of Ekkaduthangal, said “some of the brands supplied are of poor quality. I often get throat infection and cold. I have stopped using some brands as the water tasted bitter.”

Residents of various localities said that they often have to compromise on the quality if they purchase packaged water priced less. The quality of water varied according to the price of the 20-litre can, says B.Shailaja, a resident of Kolathur. “Sometimes, the bubble-top can is very old. I changed the dealer after I found some small, rusted iron pieces in the water.”

Members of the Tamil Nadu Packaged Drinking Water Manufacturers Association said the increased competition was resulting in small units pricing their products less. As some of them operate without valid licences, the possibility of the product not conforming to the standards could not be ruled out.

For the licensed unit holders, though, it was not easy to compromise on the quality as cancellation of the licence would not only result in loss, but they would not be in the business for at least six months – the time taken to get a new licence.

General secretary of the association A.Shakespeare said the sale of packaged water had gone up from 45 lakh litres daily last year to 60 lakh litres daily this year. This has led to mushrooming of units and several unauthorised manufacturers selling under the label of herbal water.

On the containers, he said: “Many of the units reuse the cans up to 15 times. According to BIS norms, the transparency of the can must be a minimum of 85 per cent. “It is difficult to adopt a ‘use and throw' policy as a can costs nearly Rs.10,” he said. The association is planning to coordinate with the (Bureau of Indian Standards) this summer, a time when the demand for the products soar, to check the menace of sub-standard packaged water.

The BIS (Southern Region) has been issuing 100 licences for water units across the State every year. Twenty-five per cent of the new units come up in the peripheral areas of Chennai.

Officials of the BIS said that there are 650 units in the State. In the past two months alone, the office had received nearly 50 applications seeking licences.

K.Anbarasu, Deputy Director General, BIS, Southern Region, said: “We conduct market survey and take random samples once in two months. Every year, about 600 samples are taken from the units and examined for micro-biological and chemical parameters.”

The number of visits to the particular unit, which fail to meet the quality norms, would be increased from the usual three visits in a year. The BIS is closely monitoring 75 units which have either failed to conform to the norms or misuse the ISI mark, across the State. Around 35 units are located around Chennai.

Raids are conducted based on customer complaints. Besides the can in the consumer's place, those in the dealer's shop and the units are also checked, he said.

On an average, about 10 raids are conducted in a year. Licence of units found misusing ISI mark would be cancelled and the unit holder has to undergo the process of obtaining fresh licence, he said.

What they say:

K.Anbarasu, Deputy Director General, BIS, Southern Region: The packaged drinking water industry is booming. Last year, 163 licences were issued compared to 100 given in 2009. As the units are on the increase, we plan to conduct more surprise checks this summer and increase the number of samples taken during random checks. We will ensure that the norms are strictly adhered to and prevent sales of fake products. Awareness programmes will also be conducted with the support of consumer clubs.

R.Desikan, Trustee, Consumer Association of India: Awareness must be created among people that not all packaged drinking water in sealed containers is of good quality. Consumers must be educated about ISI mark. The manufacturers must be insisted not to use reuse the bubble-top containers more than a few times. A study on the packaged drinking water sold in the city will soon be initiated by us.

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