SCARY

How safe is your mineral water in India?

Quartz india
Quartz india

If you believe bottled water in India is safe, think again.

A large number of packaged water samples in the country were found to be spurious. In 2014-15, almost one-third—31%, to be precise—of the samples tested by the Indian government were found to be adulterated or misbranded.

A total of 806 samples were collected across the country. Of these, 734 were analysed, Ram Vilas Paswan, the minister for consumer affairs, food and public distribution, told parliament on May 03, in a written reply to a question. In 2013-14, of the 2,977 samples tested, about 20% were found to be adulterated or misbranded.

Here are five states with the most adulterated or misbranded samples found in 2014-15:

India has over 5,000 manufacturers (pdf) of packaged drinking water holding the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) licence. The bottled water industry in India stood at Rs12,100 crore ($1.8 billion) in 2015, according to Euromonitor. The top five companies by marketshare are Bisleri, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Parle Agro and Manikchand, commanding about 61% of the market, data shows.

Never been safe

Concerns around food safety in Asia’s third largest economy have come to the forefront in recent months, especially after popular instant noodle brand Maggi, owned by Nestle, was found to contain high levels of lead and monosodium glutamate.

Past studies of popular packaged water brands in India have highlighted safety concerns.

A 2003 study (pdf) by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found pesticides in many of them. It collected bottles of 17 brands, including the top five—Bisleri, Bailley, Pure Life, Aquafina, and Kinley—sold in Delhi. On testing, it found pesticides residues in these samples above the limit set by the BIS.

Another study, in 2015, in Mumbai by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) found bromate, a possible carcinogen, in packaged drinking water samples. BARC studied 90 samples of 18 brands.

“Bottled water is in many cases drawn from ground water, which, in our country, is known to contain heavy metals that can cause chronic diseases like dementia, heart problems as well as hypertension,” Altaf Patel, a medical practitioner at Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital, told The Times of India newspaper in 2015.

The government has strict compliance norms in place under the Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011 (pdf). For instance, companies must adhere to at least 51 requirements that cover colour, taste, and presence of nitrates.

But, as the data shows, uncomfortably often, they don’t.

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