The Food Safety Commissioner SN Jayaram, made a statement recently that nearly 60 per cent of Bangalore’s packaged drinking water does not have ISI certification though it is mandatory.
This came as a startling revelation as the City is steadily becoming more dependent on bottled and canned water.
According to the Public Health Institute (PHI), there are over 1000 illegal producers of drinking water in the City. “They don’t get the ISI certification because it is a huge investment. It costs almost six to eight lakh extra to get the certification,” says SN Nanjundaiah, the chief food analyst at the PHI.
According to him, most of the non-ISI marked ones are put through an Reverse Osmosis (RO) system and purification process but don’t have a lab and technicians, which is mandatory according to the ISI.
He says that they conduct 14 tests and if the manufacturer fails in even one, their product will not get through to the market. “We check for labelling — whether they write the expiry date, manufactured date, batch number — and the ISI certification,” said Nanjundaiah.
Companies like Aquafina, Kinley and Bisleri monopolise the bottled water market but obscure names like Aqua Fresh, Aqua Mira and Blue Nile dominate and flood the canned-water market.
Chirag M, who stays in a paying guest accommodation, says that the water cans in his PG are ‘yellowing’ and the water tastes funny. “The cans never have any label on them and look like they have been reused for years,” he says with a look of disgust on his face. He has even been handed a Bisleri bottle which was taped and filled with muddy water.
Suhas, a student of MS Ramaiah College of Engineering, says that the bottles are not the problem and one would have to look at the cans. “Most of the bottled water is branded and one would have to go outside the City limits to get bad water in bottles.” Metrolife observes that the spread of these illegal and potentially dangerous cans of water seems to vary according to the areas to some extent. High-end areas like Sadashivanagar and MG Road are careful to get ISI certified cans.
“We get only the ISI-marked cans because we want our customers to trust us. They might not come back if they if they don’t like what they get,” says Narayana Babu, who owns a general store in Vyalikaval. But another general store owner in Shivajinagar says that no one in the area insists on certified water cans, so they stock up on anything they are handed. “The bottled water is ISI marked but most of the cans aren’t,” he says with a shrug.
The suppliers of these illegal cans are spread throughout the City in every nook and cranny. Khasim, who helps transport water cans for Sri Vinayakar Aerated Water Works, says that they supply the cans for weddings. The cans, which look like they have been run over by a truck, come in from various manufacturers.
The PHI says that there is no rule as to when a can should be disposed. “As long as it is clean, transparent, isn’t ruined and doesn’t have scratches, it can be reused,” says Nanjundaiah. According to regulations, if the cans are out of shape and mutilated during the course of their use, they should be disposed of. And a minimum of 85 per cent clarity is required as per ISI standards.
But is ISI certified water really safe? According to Nanjundaiah, even certified water fails the test sometimes but there has to be some kind of a governing body. “People avoid flouting the ISI standard as they are afraid to lose the investment they have made. Sometimes they fail but the standard brings a certain amount of safety that is needed.” The more dependent we grow on packaged forms of water, the more precautious we need to be about our safety and health.