50% packaged water spurious, no record of source, RTI query reveals
Activists believe this supply comes from exploiting groundwater and that prevalence of unlicensed bottling plants indicates how rampant the water mafia is in the city.Updated: Jun 12, 2019 08:38 IST
Hindustan Times, Gurugram
Of the 15 packaged drinking water samples tested by the food safety department (FSD) in the city between 2016 and 2018, seven were found to be misbranded, shows data shared by the Food Safety Officer, Gurugram. But none was found to be unsafe for drinking, officials said, adding that all bottling plants found to be selling spurious drinking water during that time were sealed.
This information, received in response to an RTI query filed by city-based activist Aseem Takyar in April this year, also revealed that the department has no record of the supply for the illegal or unlicenced bottling plants that are responsible for the sale of spurious water.
Activists believe this supply comes from exploiting groundwater and that prevalence of unlicensed bottling plants indicates how rampant the water mafia is in the city.
Stating that the issue with packaged drinking water is one of market regulation and that it does not necessarily pose a health risk for consumers, Gurugram food safety officer KK Sharma said, his department carries out inspections and testing of packaged drinking water upon receiving complaints or tip-offs about unlicenced bottling plants.
This involves checking the product’s compliance with the FSS Packaging and Safety Regulations, 2011, and the FSS Food Products and Additives Regulations, 2011, both formulated by the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
“The last time we had a case of unsafe drinking water being sold by an unlicenced bottling plant was back in 2013, or 2014. Strict action was taken against the violators at that time,” Sharma said.
Another food safety analyst, on the condition of anonymity, said that the samples tested between 2016 and 2018 against FSSAI rules were found to be fit for human consumption.
Sharma explained that a ‘misbranded’ sample is one that violates labelling and packaging rules.
“These samples are spurious from a regulatory point of view, in contravention of the FSS Packaging and Safety Regulations of 2011. Mostly, we find products which do not bear the FSSAI logo, or mandatory instructions such as ‘crush bottle after use’,” he said. In other cases, bottles may not contain a ‘best before’ date, the manufacturing address might be missing or illegible, or the product might not bear the words ‘packaged drinking water’ as required under the FSSAI rules. “What some violators also do is sell bottles under the brand of ‘natural mineral water’, which is an official term,” said the anonymous food safety analyst.
An ‘unsafe’ drinking sample, on the other hand, is one which does not conform to the FSS Food Products and Additives Regulations of 2011, which prescribe safety standards for proprietary food products in India.
“If we find that there is a high quantity of a particular element which makes the product a health risk, we immediately seal the plant and attempt to recall products from the market,” Sharma added.
While the FSD maintains that such rampant circumvention of FSSAI rules is not a ‘public health risk’, activists said it sets a poor precedent for enforcement of food safety norms, which is in itself a health risk.
“The prevalence of unlicensed bottling plants, as revealed by the FSD, shows how rampant the water mafia is. The food safety department might not have detected unsafe water in the last two years, but with such loose regulation, one cannot guarantee that all packaged drinking water in the city is safe for consumption,” local activist Takyar said.
First Published: Jun 12, 2019 04:20 IST