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Ground water being sucked dry

Chethan Kumar and Ashwini Y S, Nov 25, 2012 0:21 IST
Depletion of water table, scanty rainfall, pollution and absence of proper conservation methods are blamed for the crisis.

That unscientific planning over the years has resulted in severe drinking water shortage in the City is no secret. What this lack of planning and over-dependence on water from Cauvery has also done is leave the water table on the brink of depletion.

In the last few years, many areas within Bangalore have depended on water supplied through tankers or are paying hefty sums to avail packaged drinking water. But is packaged drinking water safe for consumption? The answer is not in black and white.

While a good percentage of companies selling packaged water in Bangalore run without appropriate licences or approvals raise doubts about the quality, studies have shown that on an average, close to 90 per cent of packaged water circulating in the City, including that which is supplied by companies with approvals and certification, is adulterated/contaminated.

The Public Health Institute, a wing of the Department of Health and Family Welfare had, in June, analysed eight packaged drinking water samples. Of this, seven, about 87.5 per cent, were found to be contaminated. Similarly, in May, six packaged drinking water samples were tested, of which five samples turned out to be both adulterated and misbranded. (See table).

Raids conducted across the State have revealed that about 564 water packaging units across Karnataka are functioning without the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) certification, which is a must under the provisions of the Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006, which was implemented in 2011.

Of the 564 units running without the required certification, 69 are in the Bangalore Urban district, second only to Bellary, which has about 78 such units. The Bangalore Rural district has about 32 such units.

The department found that only 224 units across the State were certified. Sources in the Health department said the Act not only makes it mandatory to have a quality certification for the water used, but also prescribes that it shall be packed in clean, hygienic, colourless, transparent and tamperproof bottles/ containers made of polyethylene (PE) (conforming to IS:10146 or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) conforming to IS: 10151 or polyalkylene terephthalate (PET and PBT) conforming to IS: 12252 or polypropylene conforming to IS: 10910 or food grade polycarbonate or sterile glass bottles suitable for preventing possible adulteration or contamination of the water.

Following the revelations of the raids, official sources told Deccan Herald that notices have been issued to 538 such units and about 91 units have been closed. “About 19 of them have filed writ petitions in the court, against the department,” another official said.

The Karnataka High Court has also held that packaged drinking water comes within the purview of the Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006, and that the BIS certification is mandatory. Hearing a related petition, the court has directed the State government to take action so as to prohibit and prevent the manufacture and sale of packaged drinking water without the required certification.

“The State must take action against manufacturers who are found operating without certification from the BIS,” a Division Bench had noted in the order. The Bench said all manufacturers will have to submit applications for BIS certification in the prescribed format within 15 days and directed the authorities concerned to process the applications within three months and notify the deficiencies, if any.

This leaves the City with ground water as an option, and according to reliable sources almost 40 per cent of Bangalore’s needs are already being met by ground water. However, all is not well even here.

Recently, releasing a report on the quality of drinking water in Basaveshwarnagar, Vaman Acharya, chairperson, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), said that borewell water in many pockets of the City is highly contaminated with toxins and is not fit for direct consumption. He said it is advisable to not use borewell water for drinking in these areas. This problem is not new. In April 2003, the State’s department of mines and geology collected 918 water samples from across 735 locations in the city.

And in over 370 locations (over 50 per cent), ground water was not suitable for domestic use - that is contamination exceeded levels laid down by the BIS for drinking water quality, a recent report of the Centre of Science and Environment (CSE) has noted.

“The key problem was nitrate pollution, indicating sewage-related pollution. In 262 samples, nitrate levels were found to be more than five times the permissible limit of 50 mg/per litre. In some samples, the nitrate values were as high as 666 mg/l, indicating a serious problem, for significant levels of nitrate pollution is known to cause the ‘blue baby’ syndrome in children,” the study said.

The problem in Bangalore is that its pollution management is still rudimentary. Although the City spends enormous amounts of money to supply water to its residents, its sewage network is found wanting and therefore, treatment remains inadequate. The City’s highly priced water is now leading to more sewage, which in turn, is contaminating its ground water.

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