Why Are Findings of FDA Raids on Bottled Water Plants a Secret? Put Them in Public Domain under Sect 4 of the RTI Act
The Pune regional office of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recently raided Oxymist, a private mineral water bottling company at Bhosari in Pune, on a complaint by an activist, who found fungus in a water bottle. 
 
However, there was no further action after the raids and the findings are unknown. Meanwhile, Oxymist happily continues to supply mineral water without interruption.
 
Propelled by this inaction, Right to Information (RTI) activist Vijay Kumbhar, who is also the complainant, has started campaign to make information available in public domain about raids on this and scores of other mineral water bottling plants across India by various authorities including the FDA as well as the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). 
 
Mr Kumbhar says, “Mineral water is consumed by a large number of people and hence people have a right to know about its quality and safety for the human body. Consequently, it requires suo motu disclosure of findings by the FSSAI and FDA under Section 4 of the RTI Act. 
 
 
“These authorities need to put in the public domain basic facts such as—a list of bottling plants, their location, source of water procured by them, method treatment/purification, safety of the water drawn from the ground/ other sources and test results of this water to reveal if it contains pesticides or chemicals. The public disclosures should also list consumer complaints against each manufacturer and action, if any. In short, information on every safety aspect of the mineral water that goes into the bottle, must be available at the click of a mouse.”
 
The FSSAI website has details of 'Project Clean Drinking Water', launched by the government, which assures consumers of transparency in this regard. It states: “information pertaining to the manufacturing/ processing of packaged drinking water/ mineral water should be more transparent to the consumers. Amplified as a ‘confidence building exercise’ for packaged drinking water, this project aims to ensure that consumers have the right to expect that the packaged drinking water/ mineral water they purchase should be safe and of high quality.”
 
FSSAI’s homepage says “access to safe drinking water is one of the most efficient ways to support individual and collective development…In modern scenario, the packaged drinking water/ mineral water is considered as a symbol of emerging new lifestyle. Consumers not just need water to survive but also require safe and clean drinking water for the right metabolism of their body and for the proper absorption of nutrients in the body.”
 
The only thing the FSSAI has done for public transparency is that one can visit their website and check quality of the water. You can visit, https://safewater.fssai.gov.in/CleanWater/home and check quality of water by filling in the licence number or BIS number mentioned on the bottle. The consumer would then be able to “verify the physical, chemical and microbiological safety of packaged drinking water/ mineral water through the system developed for the purpose.”
 
According to Down-to-earth Magazine, “the bottled water market is worth Rs1,000 crore and the bottled water industry is growing at the rate of 40% annually. Under the BIS certification scheme, about 517 licenses for packaged drinking water have been issued in the country.” 
 
The magazine lists Bisleri, Bailley, Yes, Kinley and Aquafina as leading brands. There are also numerous other regional and local brands across the country. Many multinationals have entered the market and have increased the marketing activity to tap the unexploited potential. Bisleri has a 51% market share, followed by Bailley with 17%, Yes with 11%, Kinley has 10% and Aquafina 4%. In the natural mineral water sector Evian, Perrier, Catch, and Himalayan are the major brands.  
 
The magazine’s research concluded that “there seems to be little or no quality control, since pesticide residues were detected in most of the brands.”
 
Indeed, mineral water, which is blindly considered as being safe for drinking and for which we pay a price, should be under our radar for its quality. 
 
Social audit is another way of putting pressure on manufacturers. For this, every consumer must go to the FSSAI and check the water they have bought by feeding in the licence or the BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) number. He or she should also lodge a complaint with the FDA. 
 
Curiously, the website of Maharashtra’s FDA has no information on this vital issue that directly affects lakhs of people.
 
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.) 
 
Comments
hamungel
2 years ago
Good Work by Mr. Kumbhar.
suketu
2 years ago
lack of transparency is the norm of govt led by Modi.
deepak.narain
2 years ago
It is a vicious circle. Chemical and other industries pollute water and bottling companies claim to clean and supply clean water and make money. Why should the pristine natural water be allowed to be contaminated in the first place?
BISWARANJAN DAS
2 years ago
Very widely analyzed article.
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