Drinking water as an issue is reaching boiling point, fanned by political heat in Kerala, which has the highest chemical/bacterial-contaminated drinking water among 28 tested States.

Figures in the State’s latest Economic Review point to the fact that quenching one’s thirst safely could be one of the toughest tasks in coming days. The review, besides exposing vulnerability to commercial schemes of private mineral water businesses, raises health concerns: water here was found ‘rich’ in arsenic, iron, fluoride, salinity, nitrate and bacteria; rich to a point where children in Punnapra village of Alappuzha district are born with physical deformities owing to high fluoride levels in water.

Yet, the Congress-led government’s move to float a public company, the Kerala Drinking Water Supply Company Limited, modelled on the Cochin International Airport Limited, is caught in a political storm. The main allegation by Opposition parties and a few environmental groups is that it is a clandestine move to privatise drinking water.

The government, which issued final orders to form the company on April 15, has said there is no intention to privatise water and the company is aimed at ‘market intervention’ at a time when the public are being fleeced by private firms for mineral water of questionable quality.

According to Water Resources Minister P.J. Joseph, private firms would have no other go but to bring down prices and ensure better water when the government begins supply at nearly half their rate.

The company will offer in tankers and bottles water that has been treated after collection from abandoned quarries, ponds and brackish waterbodies. To dispel apprehensions that the water sources will be handed over to private parties, it has been decided that no water source currently used by the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) will be used by the company.

However, all this will depend on the company — in which the government would hold 26 per cent shares and the KWA 23 per cent, the rest going to local bodies, consumers, residents’ associations and individuals — overcoming political hurdles.