And not a drop fit to drink
Written by The Indian Express   
Monday, 10 February 2003

The Indian EXPRESS

The sale of pesticide-ridden drinking water under established brands has deeply breached the consumer’s trust. But what could be more tragic than to learn that those in the know in the concerned ministry have been aware of this menace all along.

Clean water is not a luxury item, meant only for the rich. It constitutes the most vital requirement for a healthy body. In India, over eighty per cent of the diseases are water-based. According to an international study, the large-scale consumption of contaminated water could be the single largest factor behind the rising disease burden of developing nations. If not addressed on a war footing, it could soon reach alarming proportions.

Most Indian companies are bottling water after simply passing it through their filtration plants. The water thus sold to the gullible public in fancy packages with tall claims, retains hazardous chemicals, including pesticides, which can cause serious problems to the liver and kidneys. Besides, regular intake of high levels of pesticide can severely affect the bone marrow and weaken the immunity system. It could also be responsible for the growing cases of plastic anemia in India and can throw a middle-income family completely out of gear. To protect the consumer, all developed nations have strict laws and standards governing food and its safe distribution. Defaulting companies not only face huge penalties and extinction, its promoters are also sent to jail.

Ironically, India too has a similar law but it governs norms related to fuel emission only. An automobile industry stands to face closure if it falls short of meeting the re-defined guidelines. To overcome the hurdle, the industry was forced to invest millions of dollars for obtaining advanced technologies. The effort has resulted in the influx of high quality multiple fuel injectors, leading to a cleaner atmosphere with lesser toxicities.

Shockingly, however, the same system satisfies itself with archaic laws when it comes to governing issues like adulteration of water, food and drugs, thereby ensuring that people gulp down the slow poison. This laxity has only encouraged fly by night operators to sell bottled water without routing it through the process of osmosis that makes it safe for consumption. Even when exposed, most companies are able to repeatedly subvert the system and go about their business under a changed name.

The situation is even worse when it comes to regulations governing healthcare. It is no longer an excuse that the present system has been inherited from five decades of license raj. The onus squarely lies on the in-control political surgeons to surgically remove the cancerous growth. The government should not only be acting tough, it should also be seen to be doing so if it wants the message to go down. Any adulteration should be considered a criminal offense and the companies involved should be made to walk the plank. There is no reason why international standards should not be made mandatory in our country.

It is a great irony that while India talks about advancements made in the areas of computeronics and bio-genomics, the state struggles to establish a strong machinery under a tough regulator to monitor the very basic necessity of our society. It talks of crushing the enemy across the border but tacitly promotes the bigger enemy within. Instead of taking corrective measures, the government is falling into the quicksand of voter appeasement and regularising illegal colonies, also known for housing large numbers of unhygienic spurious drug and bottling plants. The already fragile system is under tremendous stress, only waiting for a major catastrophe to distintegrate. Whatever be the committee report, these defaulting companies shall go about their business, fully assured that in ‘mera mahan Bharat’ a number of similar reports are buried deep under the dust.
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