Monday, November 12, 2012


Can drinking water be considered a food? Do the FSSAI provisions apply to this material? A section of the packaged drinking water manufacturing community seems to be holding the view that no safety authority restraints can apply to them and they have the freedom to put any muck in the market without being questioned! Ii is interesting to note that more than two thirds of the water processing units in the state of Karnataka have no ISI certification from Bureau of Indian Standards (BSI) because of their perceived feeling that it was not mandatory. While the state administration was not able to bring to books these delinquents, it was left to the judiciary to compel them to seek the quality certification from BIS without which consumer safety is compromised. Here is a take on this consumer protection ruling from Karnataka High Court for which people of the state should be grateful.

'Holding that packaged drinking water comes within the purview of Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006, the Karnataka High Court on Friday said that certification from the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) is mandatory for packaged drinking water. The court also directed the State government to take action to prohibit and prevent the manufacture and sale of packaged drinking water without BIS certification. A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Vikramajit Sen and Justice Aravind Kumar passed the order while disposing of a public interest litigation (PIL) petition by Lochamesh B. Hugar of Hubli complaining inaction by the authorities against manufacturers of packaged drinking water operating without BIS certification, and a batch of petitions filed by the manufacturers claiming that certification from BIS was not necessary. The Bench also directed the authorities to take action against the manufacturers if they found them operating without certification from BIS. However, noticing that there are 564 packaged drinking water manufacturing units without BIS certification as against 224 with BIS certification across the State, the court has given an opportunity for those operating without BIS certification to apply for certification. The Bench said that all manufacturers will have to submit applications for BIS certification in the prescribed format within 15 days. It directed the authorities concerned, including the BIS, to process the application within three months and notify the deficiencies, if any, in these units. The Bench said that entire exercise will have to be completed within four months. Meanwhile, the court has given liberty to the authorities to initiate action against those manufacturers who fail to adhere to the directions and comply with conditions for manufacturing packaged drinking water".

While on paper, products with ISI mark give some confidence to the consumer regarding their quality and safety, in practice BIS is not an organization best known for its efficiency. It is common to see many products in the market place with ISI markings either spurious or sub-standard as this quality certification  agency has neither the required personnel nor the infrastructure to implement their standards. Some times it is not clear why there should be a separate certification requirement for only water which after all is a part and parcel of the food system and hence the onus of ensuring safety of drinking water must be on FSSAI which has the wherewithal to prosecute offenders more efficiently than a toothless agency like BIS. Those who went to court questioning the operation of BIS in drinking water quality management, has a valid point in that FSSAI already covers water also and ISI certification is therefore redundant. Same is true with others like AGMARK also and it is time that country's food quality and safety enforcement agencies are integrated leaving the entire function to a single agency.


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