BIS row: Citizens have the right to safe drinking waterUpdated: Dec 02, 2019 18:57 IST
The political slugfest that has erupted between the Delhi government and the Centre over the quality of piped water in Delhi is really very unfortunate.
We need to have an independent third party (whose fee has not been paid by the civic authority) to regularly check the quality of piped water and put the results in public domain, so as to build pressure on water supply undertakings to perform better. For too long, consumers have been dependent on water purifiers to ensure the safety of drinking water and it’s time civic bodies took the responsibility for providing quality water to the consumers.
In that context, the tests of water samples collected from 20 state capitals and the national capital by the Bureau of Indian Standards(BIS) is really welcome and instead of quarrelling over it, municipal authorities should use the data to identify sources of contamination and take remedial measures.
One must also remember that this is only a sample survey and state governments have to follow it up with larger number of samples in order to identify and plug the loopholes in the system. Thus the focus has to be on improving the quality of water and not on scoring political brownie points.
Given the fact that a host of diseases such as hepatitis, typhoid, amoebiosis, cholera and dysentery can come from water, I would consider the test for coliform bacteria and E-coli as one of the most important and here the worst performers have been Bhopal, Dehradun, Gandhinagar and Guwahati, indicating a major problem with the piped water supply in these cities.
Coliform bacteria, found in faeces as well as the environment, are relatively easy to detect and enumerate in water and are therefore used for assessing the miocrobial quality of treated water. Presence of coliforms in treated water points to deficiencies in treatment or post-treatment contamination Usually, if the tests confirm coliform bacteria, the water is further checked for Escherichia Coli (E-Coli) to validate faecal contamination, most likely from sewage water. All the samples from these four cities tested positive for both Coliform as well as E.Coli.
On the other hand, samples from Mumbai, Shimla, Ranchi, Bhubaneswar and Hyderabad had no faecal contamination—all the samples were negative for Coliforms and E-Coli. While all samples from Mumbai passed the test, all the samples from Shimla failed because of the presence of aluminium. Nine out of 10 samples from Ranchi, Bhubaneswar and Hyderabad conformed to the standards
Test results of samples from Delhi—the bone of contention— showed the presence of Coliforms in nine samples, out of which three also showed the presence of E-Coli. All the 11 samples collected from Delhi failed on various parameters. While for Delhi, the results of tests for all 47 parameters are out, for other cities, results of virological and biological tests are awaited.
I do hope that this is not the first and the last of such surveys. In fact BIS should undertake such pan-India surveys every six months, because improving the quality of piped water has to be a continuing process and states have to have proper infrastructure for delivering quality water and this includes water treatment, storage, laboratories, testing personnel and distribution till the last mile. In fact in most cities, the treatment may well be up to the mark, but the shortcomings in the distribution pipelines lead to contamination of water, mostly with sewage lines.
Civic authorities should also put up on their websites, complete details of the tests (and the results) on water samples done by them-and this should include the daily checks as well as surveillance done at consumers’ end.. State governments should remember that citizens have a right to life , guaranteed under the Constitution and the right to clean and safe water flows from that right.