In 2002, the Delhi Jal Board that supplies water in the capital set up its own bottling plant; this, by its own admission, was done to address "quantity, not quality," issues.

In 2002, the Delhi Jal Board that supplies water in the capital set up its own bottling plant; this, by its own admission, was done to address “quantity, not quality,” issues. Bottled water packaged as ‘Jal’ from the plant, the Board claims, was used to make up for deficit supply in several tail-end areas.

The plant continues to produce water, though supply to most targeted areas has improved with the commissioning of the Sonia Vihar Water Treatment Plant that brings Ganga water to the city.

“Bottled water from the plant is for bridging the gap in demand and supply, not because we are not providing clean water. The water that leaves our treatment plants is fit to drink straight from the tap; contamination occurs as the water travels from the plants to individual connections. We adhere to the WHO and BIS norms, and the water we produce is absolutely safe for potable use,” says Debashree Mukherjee, chief executive officer of the utility.

Priced at Rs. 45 a jar of 20 litres, ‘Jal’ has already found a niche in the bottled water market that continues to grow; efforts are under way to increase its reach. A new bottling plant is being commissioned at Savda Gevra, (a resettlement area for the weaker sections), which does not have piped supply.

So if the Board provides clean water, what explains the presence of impurities, bacteria, particle matter that lead to discoloured, smelly and, in a few cases, totally unfit-for-consumption supply? And why is the market for water purifying devices and bottled water growing?

“The pipelines are not pressurised always because of intermittent system of supply. The risk of contamination increases in depressurised systems; it gets worse when water carrying pipelines are laid close to sewerage systems and consumers use online boosters to draw water,” Ms. Mukherjee says.

Uncared for storage systems at the consumer end, poor maintenance of service pipelines and poor planning of cities — development and infrastructure follow occupation — are some other reasons for poor quality, the Board claims.

In 2012, the Union Urban Development Ministry issued an advisory to all the States, asking for water supply and sanitation services to be recognised as ‘basic services.’ Recognising the need for reliability, sustainability and quality and their linkage to social and economic development, the Ministry stressed that “in order to contribute effectively to economic development, these basic services need to be structured as ‘economic services,’ working on principles such as universal access and self-sustainability.”

To improve water supply, the Ministry suggested increasing autonomy of urban local bodies, evaluating the performance of service-providers and making them accountable.