With a burgeoning population and limited drinking water resources, Kochi has become one of the most thirsty cities of Kerala. The situation has given scope for spurious drinking water manufacturers to operate.

Municipal water connections remain a dream for many localities. And, even in areas having public water supply, many people depend on packaged drinking water. The phenomenon has been congenial to bottled water manufacturers and they have been thriving. There are over 90 licensed bottled water manufacturers in the State. The bottled water manufactured by these units requires certification from Bureau of Indian Standards.

As BIS officials conduct inspections from samples collected from the market, it is difficult for fake products to survive. But there have been instances of fake operators being caught in the past, according to manufacturers.

Fake operators exist mostly in the business of drinking water supplied in jars. At least 20 licensed operators are supplying drinking water in 20 litre jars and dispensers. On a rough estimate, 2 lakh litres of water are supplied by them daily in the city, according to M.E.Mohammed, president of Kerala Bottled Water Manufacturers Association.

The association has lodged a complaint with the Food Safety and Standards Association of India (FSSAI) regarding an unlicensed unit supplying packaged drinking water in Ernakulam a month ago. Six spurious drinking water suppliers have had operated in Thrissur and Palakkad districts, Mr.Mohammed said. The matter is being investigated into, according to FSSAI officials.

With strict rules being applicable to manufacturing units, it is not easy for spurious manufacturers to survive, says Siddique, a representative of a private bottled water company. He advises customers to ensure that the safety seal is intact prior to opening it. Often, the refills are connected to the dispenser by the personnel of the supplier, with the consumer paying least attention to the safety cap or seal. The drinking water jars of 20 litre capacity are sold at rates varying from Rs.30 to 50, depending on the location.

One of the interesting aspects is that BIS has the authority to take samples from the market to verify whether the manufacturers are complying with its rules, but it is for FSSAI to find out whether fake operators are existing. K.Ajith Kumar, FSSAI official attached to the Ernakulam unit, said surprise checks are conducted on water samples collected from the market. FSSAI will also conduct examination of samples of water supplied by water tankers. The organisation was given the mandate for the same a few days ago. The operation will begin within a few days, according to him.

ramabhadran.r@thehindu.co.in

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