Water, water everywhere, but how many brands are safe to drink?

Areas abutting the city are increasingly dotted with packaged drinking water industrial units. A minimum of 30 plants have come up over the last year in the neighbouring districts. The rising demand for water this summer has also paved the way for the sale of sub-standard quality of water and operation of unauthorised units.

The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), Southern Region, cancelled the licences of 15 industrial units in and around the city in the past one year. The units lost their licenses for either not meeting the quality standard, unsatisfactory operation or misuse of the ISI mark.

Over the past decade, packaged drinking water has become an indispensable part of urban life. Even as Chennai Metrowater has stepped up its daily water supply to 830 million litres a day, packaged drinking water still continues to capture a large market. According to statistics of Tamil Nadu Packaged Drinking Water Manufacturers Association, the city and suburbs consume not less than 70 lakh litres of packaged water daily, which is 15 per cent more than last year's sales.

While some residents say that they prefer packaged drinking water for its quality, those in the fringes of the city deem it a boon as they are yet to be covered with piped water supply. At present, there are nearly 290 licensed industrial units functioning in localities rich in groundwater resources in Tiruvallur and Kancheepuram districts. Last year alone, the BIS sanctioned licences to 150 units, which is 35 more than the number of applications approved every year.

The growing demand for water has led to mushrooming of unauthorised units around the city, point out members of the Association.

While the BIS-approved units have to follow stringent norms to avoid cancellation of licence, those functioning without a licence do not have to spend on an elaborate filtration process or testing facilities, they added, alleging that there are about 100 such units operating in the city. “They function like a cottage industry and follow basic filtration process. They brand it as herbal or flavoured water to escape the purview of the BIS,” said A. Shakespeare, the association's general secretary.

Members also point out that unauthorised unit holders often fill water obtained from private tankers and sell them in the bubble-top 20-litre containers of popular brands. They take advantage of the system of reusing the containers after sterilisation in the industry. “We found several such containers bearing popular brand names, ready for despatch at Puzhal recently. The unit holder had obtained the containers through some retailers,” said Mr. Shakespeare.

Members said that most of them were BIS licensees who lost the licence for operation for not maintaining standards. V. Murali, patron of the association, said that the business of herbal water is growing as there is no specification or monitoring by government agencies. “People must also check for ISI mark. When they find difference in taste or distorted labels, they may contact the manufacturer,” he said.

BIS, Southern Region's deputy director general, K. Anbarasu said in the last one year, 52 industrial units have been warned for supplying low quality water as the random samples taken from them failed to meet the standards. Of this, 15 were in and around Chennai.

“We can only monitor those who have licenses. The containers are also checked for quality. However, there is no specified standard for herbal water,” he said.

Bottled water that claims to have added minerals and proprietary food are controlled by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, a newly established department in the city, he added. Officials of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India said that they were awaiting formulation of standards for flavoured water by the Central government.

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Printable version | Jun 29, 2022 10:52:12 pm |