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Food regulator cracks the whip on Aquafina, Bisleri, Kinley, others

By Timsy Jaipuria and Himani Chandna
PUBLISHED ON JUN 28, 2016 06:58 AM IST

NEW DELHI: The bottled water that you buy for 15 or 20 from the neighbourhood store may not be much safer than the normal tap water.

Out of the 6,000 packaged drinking water bottling units in India, over 4,300 are operating without proper licences. The list includes names, such as, Bisleri, PepsiCo’s Aquafina and Coca-Cola’s Kinley.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the apex food and water regulation body, has put a number of large and small packaged water-selling firms under the scanner.

Confirming the development, Pawan Agarwal, CEO, FSSAI, told HT: “The authority has written letters to food security commissioners of all states and territories with a detailed list of brands and addresses of the units operating with proper licences.”

“We have found that only one fourth of the total units operating in India have obtained mandatory licences issued by the FSSAI and the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). Clearly, other units are working against the food safety laws of the country,” he added.

According to the regulator, any packaged drinking water unit has to obtain two licences -one from the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and another from the FSSAI — which ensures the safety of the water content and quality standard of the packaging material.

“It has been reported that a large number of food business operators are engaged in the business of manufacture and sale of packaged drinking water without the FSSAI or the BIS certification mark,” according to the letter sent to food safety commissioners by FSSAI’s director for enforcement, Rakesh Chandra Sharma, a copy of which is available with HT.

“It is requested to undertake enforcement activities on unauthorised manufacture and sale of packaged drinking water without the FSSAI or BIS mark in your respective states and union territories.”

“It has been brought to notice that several complaints have been received on mushroom growth of units in various states manufacturing and selling packaged drinking water without BIS certification mark,” the letter added.

The company, which has obtained both licenses, passes through two layers of testing, with surprise visits and regular audits. Also, these licenses make companies liable to sell products after conducting exhaustive scientific tests to check the quality, quantity of minerals and safety of the product.

“We are not aware of any such list nor have we received any communication from any authority on the said issue. At PepsiCo, we comply with all quality and regulatory norms and all our packaged drinking water is manufactured under valid licences,” a PepsiCo India spokesperson said.

Coca Cola, Bisleri and Parle did not respond to HT’s requests for comments.

According to industry estimates, the packaged water market, dominated by six players, including Bisleri, PepsiCo, Dhariwal, Tata Global Beverages, Parle and Coca Cola, is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 22% to 16,000 crore by 2018.

Rise in health awareness and increase in tourist inflow are also boosting the per capita consumption of bottled water. It currently stands at around 20 litres per annum, against four-five litres in the late 1990s.

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