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Tuesday, Mar 25, 2003

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Bottled water units get edgy on new norms

P.T. Jyothi Datta

NEW DELHI, March 24

THE bottled water issue is still bubbling under, with just about a week to go for the proposed revised norms to come into effect on April 1.

Expressing its reservations, the Rs 1,000-crore bottled water industry has urged caution in bringing in revised norms for water, as this could serve as a touchstone for other food products as well.

The controversy had erupted in early February, when a study conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment revealed that bottled water across the board contained a "cocktail of pesticidal residue".

The MNC bottled water companies had responded by letting their consumers know that they adhered to both the European Union (EU) and US norms.

But that begs the question on the fate of domestic players, particularly regional companies — "can they afford going through the whole exercise again, besides pumping in additional investment for testing equipment," question some industry representatives.

The Health Ministry officials confirmed to Business Line that the industry feedback had been mixed and some of them had raised questions on the prospects for domestic companies. But the final norms will depend on how these views are incorporated into the final notification.

Industry officials also cautioned the Government from doing anything in haste.

"Indian scientists need to formulate reasonable norms, as per Indian conditions. And this could keep in view the health of consumers and the industry. But the Government needs to understand that the revised water norms on pesticide would be the yardstick for other food products too."

This observation finds an echo in the views expressed by Mr Ramesh Chauhan of Bisleri.

"The testing system is complicated and there is concern on how to test levels as low as 0.0001 mg/ litre for individual pesticides and 0.0005 mg/litre for total pesticide residues. Nowhere in the world have EU norms been implemented, not even at the EU. And if it comes into effect in the EU, it would be in December 2003 and that too after the manufacturers were given five years to adopt the norms. Not two months, as is the case here. Besides, if one were looking at EU norms, it should be said that grapes have pesticide limits 500 times that of water."

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