Kerala takes to packaged water to quench thirst

M.P. Praveen

KOCHI: As the temperature soars and there are more parched throats to be cooled than the Kerala Water Authority could effectively manage, packaged drinking water is moving like never before.

“The sale is impossible. We are selling at least 20 cases (240 bottles) a day on an average. At times, we are running out of stock and there is delay getting the stock replenished by the suppliers as well,” said an executive of a supermarket at Vytilla.

“This year alone, more than 15 companies got the licence of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) taking the total number in the State to 54,” M.E. Mohamed, president, Kerala State Bottled Water Manufacturers Association, told T he Hindu.

Going even by the assumption that just 40 out of the 54 companies were into the business of refill jars, about 20,000 jars might be getting sold in the State in a day on an average, said Mr. Mohamed, who is also the managing director of a mineral water company.

“We sell about 2,500 jars a day to distributors at a price of Rs. 15 per jar,” said Jacob T. Abraham, managing director of another firm. Inclusive of transportation and service charges, the retail price goes up to about Rs. 40.

A fully automated refilling machine would cost Rs. 30 lakh to Rs. 40 lakh and many companies opt for manual filling. “The quality suffers as the hygiene of the hands involved cannot always be guaranteed. Many claim that the workers use gloves but in actual practice, it is not the case,” said Mr. Abraham.

“The production cost of a carton of bottled water comes to about Rs. 66. But some companies are prepared to undervalue it to compensate for the lack of brand value and capture the market. Not only would the quality be affected but in the long run they will pile up losses,” Mr. Abraham said.

Mr. Abraham said that BIS collects random samples from the plants of companies and the market at least four times a year. But the State seems to have no regular mechanism to ensure the quality of packaged drinking water on sale.

Asked whether food inspectors were collecting samples of packaged drinking water for quality checks as they do in the case of food materials, K.T. Peethambharan, Deputy DMO, Ernakulam, said that food inspectors have reached the conclusion that water didn't come within the definition of food.