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Sources to Tap: Water Quality in Delhi and India

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Looking at the water quality spat through a critical lens.

The quality of tap water was found to be the worst in the national capital. Union Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, on Saturday, released the much-awaited report of the study of samples of drinking water taken from 20 states across the country, including Delhi. However, Mumbai topped the ranking released by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for quality of tap water. Delhi finished at the bottom, with 11 out of 11 samples failing on 19 parameters out of 28.

Even as the political discourse on this matter bubbles and boils, a trade organisation of Reverse Osmosis (RO) purifier makers has knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court against a ban on the use of RO filters in several parts of Delhi. The Water Quality India Association has moved the Supreme Court against a ban imposed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on the use of RO filters in Delhi as they “unnecessarily result in rejecting 80 percent of potable water”. The NGT in its order on 20th May had directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to frame rules for manufacturing and sale of RO filters, and banned the use of RO in areas where the Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) in water was already low.

City water systems are typically required to comply with the national standard for drinking water IS 10500:2012, but most obviously feel no compulsion in doing so. The lack of motivation, or initiative exhibited by them can be attributed to various factors such as the expanding reach of packaged drinking or mineral water in populous urban cities as well as the high dependence on groundwater, where the State provision of piped water systems does not exist. Moreover, most residents in urban areas do vastly rely on the water purification installation in their homes for this purpose.

On paper, the pipe water has to pass many tests such as absence of viruses, parasites, microscopic organisms and toxic substances. In practise, the lack of accountability of official agencies, lack of quality testing and the absence of legitimate data on the matter, have resulted in these specifications being far from realised.

Making it legally binding on agencies to achieve standards and empowering consumers with rights is the need of the hour, since this would not only address the issue of water quality in both urban and rural centres, it would also allow the State governments to look at four important health verticals – housing, water supply, sanitation and waste management, in a holistic manner.

Moreover, a scientific approach to water management is crucial keeping in mind that 21 cities of urban India – including many having unfit tap water – could run out of groundwater as early as 2020, as per a report by the NITI Aayog.


Featured Image Credits: Mir Suhail for News18


Bhavya Pandey 

[email protected] 

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