PUNE: Packaged drinking water may not always be your safest bet, going by a random survey conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA drew 95 water samples from packaged drinking water plants across the state from April 2014 to March 2015 and found 53% of them unsafe and substandard. In Pune region, 11 of the 31 samples were found unsafe.
While criminal cases have been filed against five errant plant owners, investigations are on against 26 others. “Food safety officials (FSOs) across the state sent the 95 samples to designated laboratories. Of the 95 samples, 28 had high bacterial count while 23 did not meet quality standards. Most of the samples found substandard either did not match the required pH level or failed on branding and labelling parameters,” Uday Vanjari, joint commissioner (food), FDA headquarters, told TOI on Wednesday .
Vanjari said court cases have been filed against the erring units for violation of the norms of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. “A temporary prohibitory order, until further notice, has been issued and the plants where samples were found unsafe have been shut down,” he explained. Licences from the Bu reau of Indian Stan dard (BIS) and Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) are prerequisites to run a packaged drinking water plant.
“We have in the past closed down quite a few packaged drinking water plants which were operating without mandatory licences,” said Uday Vanjari, joint commissioner (food), FDA headquarters.
Vanjari added that most of these plants were from the state’s rural interiors.
A senior FDA official said that some of these plants did not even have a laboratory , which is necessary to check water potability . “They also had no test reports of the processed water from other laboratories, “he added.
In Pune division, which includes Pune, Satara, Sangli, Solapur and Kolhapur, 11 of the 31 samples drawn were found unsafe while eight were of substandard quality. “Pune and Solapur have reported the highest number of unsafe samples. We have filed three criminal cases against the erring plant owners. A probe into eight cases of unsafe water is currently on,” said Shashi kant Kekare, joint commissioner (food), FDA, Pune.
Nine of the 24 samples in Aurangabad division and three of the seven in Nagpur division were found to be substandard. A few water samples contained rod-shaped bacteria called coliform in high proportion, exposure to which can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and vomiting.
Sources said bottling unit owners invest up to Rs 2 lakh while a standard mineral water processing plant needs around Rs 20 lakh. “Many supply water without ISO certification. The demand for packaged water is so high that it hardly matters whether the contents are certified or not.
People don’t ask about the certification,” said a grocery shop owner.
Consumption of packaged drinking water shoots up during summer. According to an estimate, the city consumes between 30,000 and 40,000 bottles of 20-litre capacity per day. “Most illegal plants fill the bottles with tap or ground water and sell it as processed drinking water, “another grocery shop owner claimed.
In 2010-11, about 6,648 sam ples of packaged drinking wa ter were taken from across In dia and 805 of them were found to have failed to adhere to norms. Government agencies had sent 543 warning letters to the manufacturers for flouting the norms. At least 30 licences were cancelled. In Delhi and Noida, 23 of the 190 samples failed tests and two licences were cancelled. In Maharashtra and Goa, 104 of 729 samples failed the tests.