One-third of Delhi depended on ROs for drinking water, 14% on bottles
Forty eight-year-old Manohar Lal, a resident of south Delhi’s Sangam Vihar, buys three-four cans of drinking water daily for his family of six. Despite the Delhi government’s claims of water in the city from water treatment plants (WTP) being “fit to drink”, Lal says he does not want to take any chances with his family’s health.
“I have three children and even though we are not rich, the health of my family is of utmost importance. Each canister costs me Rs 35, but that will at least save me medical bills,” he said Friday.
A National Statistical Office’s (NSSO) latest report shows that Delhi tops the list of 36 states and union territories in the use of electric water purifiers, with 36.5% households in the capital relying on purifiers to treat drinking water. The report also shows that in the National Capital, bottled water was the second principal source of drinking water. This means that nearly 14% of Delhiites depend on packaged drinking water at home.
Agreeing with fears such as those voiced by Lal and the findings of the NSSO report, Sushant Giri, a resident of Vasant Kunj’s B-Block said trusting the Delhi Jal Board’s (DJB) promises of clean water provided at household taps was difficult mainly because of the state of the rivers, which are the primary source of water for the city. “Look at the state of the Yamuna and Ganga. How much can technology clean them?” he said, adding that he has a water purifier installed at his house since over 15 years now.
The recent controversy questioning the purity of Delhi’s drinking water has also cautioned many. While a Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) report had failed Delhi in almost ten out of 11 quality parameters of drinking water, the Delhi government and the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have called the findings “false and politically motivated”.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had, in May this year, directed the ministry of environment and forests to frame rules for the manufacture and sale of ROs (water purifiers using reverse osmosis) and banned the use of ROs in areas where the total dissolved solids (TDS) in water was under 500mg/litre. Moderate to high levels of TDS (above 500mg/litre) not only change the taste of the water but also pose health hazards.
The green court had said that the use of RO filters results in “unnecessarily rejecting 80% of potable water”. The Supreme Court also refused to stay this ban in an appeal heard this month.
“I don’t know who to trust. If there is a conclusive and trustworthy test of the city’s water quality and proving its purity then maybe in a few years perceptions will change, but on most days in our locality the tap water is dirty and smelly. It cannot be used for other household chores even, let alone for drinking,” said Sudha Shankaran, a resident of RK Puram.
The DJB, however, is confident water from the WTPs can be consumed right from taps. DJB vice chairperson Dinesh Mohaniya said before his government, Delhiites received muddy and unclean water for many years. There is also a psychological block that you cannot drink tap water directly, he added. “I can confidently say treated water in Delhi is drinkable but we need to really work with people till they can confidently drink from their taps. A lot depends on perception and fear of their health; things are also being made worse by political ill-will of other parties,” said Mohaniya.
Experts said in the WTP, the water is cleaned after which poly-aluminium chloride and alum is mixed to remove mud and dirt. But this is no guarantee that people are getting clean water in the end. Though independent tests have proved Delhi’s water is cleaner compared to other states, there is a fear it may be contaminated by the time it reaches households, they said.
“Agencies will have to work a lot on distribution infrastructure before they can gain people’s trust. Though water from WTPs is drinkable, there are ways it can get contaminated when it reaches taps,” said Dr Prabhakaran Reddy, senior researcher, IIT-Delhi.
He, however, also said that while people think that RO filters can solve all drinking water problems, excess purification also has its disadvantages. “Over-purification can cause some essential minerals to be killed. It is not advised in areas where you get quality-tested water,” he added.