February 19, 2020
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The Price Of A Trickle

In this emergency, another parallel industry is flourishing

The Price Of A Trickle
The chronic water shortage has spawned a flourishing industry. From booster pumps to purification systems to bottled water—anything that promises more and safe water sells like hot cakes. The risks attached to contaminated water have become so pronounced that nobody's willing to take any chances even with the municipal supply—almost every middle-class home has water purifiers to the piped supply.

But the biggest boom has been for companies making bottled and mineral water, many of them unlicensed. The DJB claims to have identified at least 15 unlicensed bottled water plants operating in Delhi. In Bangalore, municipality health officials closed a dozen such spurious mineral water units. Now the corporation has decided to acquire equipment worth Rs 15 lakh to test all mineral water brands sold in the city.

In Chennai, more than 50 lakh water packets—Re 1 for 250 ml—are sold every day. The city also accounts for about one lakh water cans (of 12 litres each priced at Rs 18-Rs 22). Last year, plant owners in Chennai did a whopping Rs 50 crore business every month. Of the 400 companies packaging water on the outskirts of Chennai, at least 200 are believed to be operating without a license.

Private water tankers are also fishing in troubled waters in most metros. This summer, the parched areas of south Delhi are at the mercy of such tankers, who mostly procure their water from small farmers in the city suburbs. Priced at Rs 50 per 1,000 litres, tanker water is not safe and therefore people either treat it or use it for washing clothes and utensils. In Chennai, major commercial consumers such as industrial and IT parks, star hotels and hospitals are buying water from private suppliers at a premium of Rs 45-60 per 1,000 litres. There are 400 legal water-packaging units around the city. Most draw groundwater from wells or river water, purify, package and market it, some importing containers from Taiwan. A water-purifying and packaging unit costs between Rs 5,00,000 for low-grade filtration and Rs 4 million if the plant's sophisticated.
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