Default drinking water

Saturday 15 February 2003

'Corporate Responsibility' has died a fancy death at the altar of public relations. A recent chemical analysis of branded packaged drinking water (commonly called bottled water) conducted by the Pollution Monitoring laboratory of the Centre for Science and Environment has brought out a horror story. All the major brands contain high doses of pesticide residue. Lindane, Malathion, Chlorpyrifos, DDT, you name it: bottled water is a kind of pre-mixed chemical cocktail. Bad news.

-- 'corporate Responsibility' has died a fancy death at the altar of public relations. A recent chemical analysis of branded packaged drinking water (commonly called bottled water) conducted by the Pollution Monitoring laboratory of Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment has brought out a horror story (see: gulp). All the major brands contain high doses of pesticide residue. Lindane, Malathion, Chlorpyrifos, ddt, you name it: bottled water is a kind of pre-mixed chemical cocktail. Bad news.

The bigger - worse - news is the source of all these pesticides. Manufacturers simply extract cheap groundwater from the plant site, 'purify' it, bottle it and sell it. Consumers are paying through their noses for this 'pure' and 'clean' drinking water. The 'Corporate Responsibility' of providing healthy drinking water (obviously at a price more expensive than milk) has been sacrificed for a profit-maximising exercise. The exercise ensures that the manufacturers use the cheapest inputs - heavily contaminated groundwater in this case - and a cheap technological operation that cannot get rid of the poison present in the raw water.

Skeptics will argue that humans can easily absorb trace amounts of pesticide. But the problem is that packaged drinking water is on its way to becoming the default drinking water. It has reached small shops in small towns. Even if we do not buy one-litre bottles for home, we are happily drinking the same water in commercial and business establishments: they buy the same packaged water in bulk. A large part of the money made by duping us is used to promote this very 'safe drinking water'. If we aspire to live our life according to the advertisements, a lot of pregnant mothers are jeopardising their unborn children's future with pesticide cocktails. Chlorpyrifos, one of the deadliest chemicals, is known to be an agent that attacks a child's neurological development in the womb itself. One sample showed Chlorpyrifos levels to be 400 times more than the European standard for permissible amounts of pesticides!

The real culprit remains the custodians of public interests, the regulatory authority. The bureaucracy of monitoring Indian industry is as contaminated as the bottled water we are made to drink. People vested with our trust have worked overtime to create a regime that is vague, diluted and harmful to the public interest. They have made such trashy standards that 'Corporate Responsibility' is a cakewalk.

All over India there are 'water lords' who pump out groundwater and sell them in dry towns. The packaged drinking water industry has merely made the same business respectable and 'liberalised'.

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