Search This Blog

Friday, May 17, 2013

Mineral / Packaged water.... supply units try to paralyse parched Chennai city

Remember your school days…. [if you are 40+] ~ there used to be rusted iron pipes from the water tank……. Students would line before the water tank [very thought would make modern day youngsters and mothers scary] – there would be no tumblers or receptacles,  one would  open the tab / lift the nozzle, keep one’s hand in a manner that falling water would find its way to the mouth……none cared to check of its purity, taste, colour, odour and more…….. a few decades earlier, perhaps none would have imagined that water would be ‘crore industry – with multi-brands’ ruling the market…life has changed since !!

None would have imagined that water would become a hot selling commodity commanding crores; nor that so many brands would vie to capture market share. From potable water to mineral water, as it was sold in the beginning……  mineral water actually, is water from a mineral spring containing various minerals such as salts and sulphur compounds. Mineral water may be "sparkling". Traditionally, mineral waters were used or consumed at their spring sources, often referred to as "taking the waters" or "taking the cure," at developed cities such as spas, baths, or wells. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies mineral water as water containing at least 250 parts per million total dissolved solids (TDS), originating from a geologically and physically protected underground water source.

Here the  term "mineral water" is colloquially used to mean any bottled carbonated water or soda water, as opposed to tap water; and years after their advent, it simply is any packaged water…… the water that you get in bottles / cans of various capacities…… may not even be chemically treated water containing any minerals.  Now people are finicky, most cannot drink water in hotels, restaurants and public places but buy mineral water bottles – some cannot survive without specified brands.  Indian Railways which carries millions everyday, turned to their own brand – ‘rail neer’, a branded packaged drinking water for the rail commuters handled through IRCTC.  Rail Neer is processed, purified and bottled at state-of-art plants; completely automatic plant and no manual handling of product water at any stage. Previously many International and local brands made big money selling water in Railways and this is a big jolt to them. 

Railways selling ‘packaged water’ !!! strange as decades ago,  Railways had in their employment water quenchers (mostly old ladies) providing water in mugs to passengers. Old people used to take a vessel (called kooja) containing hot coffee but not water. According to some estimates, the total size of packaged drinking water brand of India within the railways premises (read railway stations and onboard trains) is of Rs.1,600 crore.

In this background, read the news that supply of  20-litre bubble top containers across Chennai hit.  Today’s newspapers report that water packaging units across Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts have pulled down shutters in protest against the closure of 92 units in and around Chennai by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). These units did not have the requisite permits from the TNPCB, which, on Thursday, asked the Electricity Department to disconnect power supply to them. The TNPCB initiated action against these units after the National Green Tribunal’s southern Bench sought to know if any steps were taken against units functioning without due consent. The case will come up for hearing before the Bench on Friday.

So those who have been supplying water without proper permission and perhaps not adhering to quality standards [that would include your friendly neighbourhood supplier from whom you have been constantly buying water] are enraged and are on strike.  The strike could affect those to whom water in 20-litre bubble top containers  were the  sole source of drinking water ~  their consumption is estimated at 12 lakh cans per day. Customers have been told that they will not get their regular supply due to the strike and they should make alternative arrangements. The city consumes around 70 lakh litres of packaged water every day.  According to TNPCB sources, these three districts have 121 units, most of which are located in Red Hills, Medavakkam, Ambattur, Madhavaram and Tambaram.  According to officials only 23 of the 121 units have the requisite permits. 

In the midst of torrid summer, it is panic for some ~ but I feel that the action of Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board shutting down 103 water packaging units in the city is right and perhaps delayed one too. The 103 units that were closed were operating without permission from the pollution control board. They make up about a third of all water packaging companies in the city. The report adds that the association asked distributors not to sell cans from the stock even to their regular customers……threat to paralyse the city and make the move fail.

Chennai Metrowater supplies the city 810 million litres of water a day, but many families rely only on packaged water for their drinking requirements. The action of Pollution control board may be inopportune but was long overdue. While the TNPCB has promised to continue to take action against unauthorised units, officials of the state food safety department and Chennai Corporation said they will test water samples from across the city for contamination. They are likely to be accompanied by health officials from corporation, which will provide the food safety department vehicles, manpower and testing equipment.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
17th May 2013.


  1. insightful post. I stay in a big apartment complex with all 'ultra amenities'. But I am worried as my water can is running out and the tap water has never been used for intake by my family. I am more worried as no where else I can find information on what is going to happen on this situation . If you have a well with good water( I have only seen a bore well in chennai and the water did have some taste other than how pure water should be. 'm not finicky, and i dont think what can's or bottled water dispense are real good. government should supply water from RO plants at a price .

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.