Packaging units to begin operations today; manufacturers’ association to go to court seeking relief from TNPCB action

Packaged drinking water manufacturers are back in business. On Saturday, they called off their strike and resumed production.

Around 300 water packaging units across Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts had downed shutters on Thursday protesting the closure of 92 units by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). These units did not have valid consent from the TNPCB.

On Friday, the National Green Tribunal directed TNPCB and the Commissionerate of Food Safety and Drug Administration to inspect the closed units and submit a report after analysing water samples. Until then, the units will remain closed.

The strike had severely affected the supply of mineral water cans in the city. Households depend on private manufacturers for potable water. On Saturday evening, residents heaved a sigh of relief when the units resumed work.

President of Tamil Nadu Packaged Drinking Water Manufacturers Association, K. Rajaram, said they had earlier decided to continue the strike until Monday.

“But we decided to call it off as we did not want to inconvenience the public any further. We will sort out our issues in court,” he said. Supply of water cans would resume soon, he said.

Though relieved by the manufacturers’ decision, shopkeepers in the city are angry the units resorted to such an extreme measure.

G. Bose, who runs a store in Choolaimedu, said there was no meaning in the association calling for a strike when the fault was entirely theirs. “This is hardly the time to go on strike. The public was badly affected. I had to turn away several customers who came looking for water,” he said.

Many residents said mineral water companies and delivery boys kept their phones off the hook the past couple of days. R.J. Sambasivam, who supplies cans to about 50 customers in Ambattur area, said he got tired of telling customers he had run out of stock.

Unable to get any water, many residents turned to flavoured drinks and buttermilk to quench their thirst. V. Kandan, who runs a soft drinks shop in Moolakadai, said he did brisk business over the weekend.

“But I ran out of one-litre water bottles and placed orders for an additional case to be delivered on Sunday,” he said.

Before the strike was called off on Saturday evening, residents were busy exploring all possible options to source packaged drinking water. A few were lucky to find bubbletop cans of costlier brands.

“We couldn’t get our regular brand so we bought two costlier cans at Rs. 80 each,” said Abdul Shukoor who runs a mobile phone recharge shop opposite Chennai Central station.

A resident of Adyar said he was able to get 5-litre cans of a popular brand. “It will last my family a day. Hopefully, by Monday, the situation will be back to normal,” he said.

A representative of a packaged water brand said his company had received dozens of calls over the past three days. “Most of them were interested in our product only as a stop-gap measure. We cannot increase production for their sake. Supplies to our regular door-delivery customers were not hit,” he said.

A move that left the city parched

A quick recall of the events over the past week

- Why did the packaged water manufacturers go on strike?

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board sent show cause notices to 92 manufacturing units and shut them down as they did not have necessary licences to operate

- What was the impact of the closure?

Around 220 units stopped production and downed shutters to protest TNPCB's move. This hit the supply of packaged drinking water to the city. Over 12 lakh bubbletop cans are supplied to the city on a daily basis during summer

- Why did the TNPCB issue closure orders?

The National Green Tribunal’s Southern Bench, based on a news report in The Hindu on violations by packaged water units, sought an explanation from the TNPCB. The TNPCB informed the Bench that only 23 units had valid licences to operate and issued closure orders on 92 units.

- What is the future course of action?

On Friday, the green tribunal directed the TNPCB and the Commissionerate of Food Safety and Drug Administration to inspect the shut units. It also ordered them to analyse water samples from the units and submit a report on May 27. Until then, the units will remain closed.

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