If you think you are consuming packaged water and thus you are safe, you may be wrong. The report card of the State Health Department on water samples shows that water could be substandard, even if it is stored in a sealed container.
Of the eight packaged drinking water samples analysed by the Public Health Institute of the department of Health and Family Welfare in June, seven (87.5 per cent) were found to be substandard and thus did not meet the prescribed specification of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).
In May, six packaged drinking water samples were tested and five turned out to be substandard and misbranded. The department, however, did not analyse any water sample for the first three months of this year. Only two samples were tested in April.
Anjum Parvez, Commissioner of the Health Department, described the scenario ‘alarming’. The department is slowly waking up to the responsibilities it has been entrusted with under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, which came into effect on August 5, 2011.
The department, which is facing severe staff shortage, was forced to act recently following a public interest litigation filed by a non-governmental organisation against the government for not taking action against companies that sell substandard packaged drinking water.
The department, in its raids across the State, found 564 water units of the total 788 were functioning without BIS ISO certification. No person can do business of packaged water or mineral water without BIS certificate. Despite having the certificate, if the set norms are violated, the units could be closed by the government, said Parvez. The Commissioner said after the raids, 100 units were closed for violation of norms. Of these, 19 have filed writ petitions in court against the department. The highest number of unauthorised water packaging units were found in Bellary - 78 and Bangalore Urban - 69. In BBMP area, 23 had no certification, while 16 had BIS certification. The scene in other major districts like Dakshina Kannada, Mysore, Dharwad and Belgaum is no better. In Gadag, Haveri and Yadgir, none of the units had certification. Unauthorised units outnumbered authorised units of packaged drinking water in most districts. Most of the units harness borewell water, use the reverse osmosis process, package and sell it. The department has no information on the quantity of such packaged drinking water produced. Till the judiciary decides the matter, should the people continue to be cheated? “The department has taken up the drive against packaged drinking water aggressively. However, with many litigations in court, the drive has to be postponed by another three months,” Parvez said.
Under the Food Safety and Standards Act, the department is required to test quality of water, milk and any edible item, besides issuing licences and conducting registration. The progress is tardy. “Of the conservative estimate of 4.5 lakh food business operators in the State, only around 15,000 are registered or have licences,” said Parvez.
The department is in need of more staff to carry out its work. Of the 238 posts created, the working strength is 145. The finance department has sanctioned an additional 170 posts. Each lab analyses only 20 to 25 samples against the stipulated 70 to 80 samples, he said. The department has labs only in Bangalore, Belgaum, Mysore and Gulbarga. While food is tested in all the four, water is tested only in Bangalore. The Public Health Institute at KR Circle in Bangalore does take water samples for lab analysis. However, only packaged water in a sealed container is tested, according to Parvez. Efforts are on to establish more labs.