M A I N   N E W S

A Tribune Investigation
Buy water, drink bacteria
All nine brands tested found unfit for human consumption
Gayatri Rajwade and Smriti Sharma
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, July 14
That innocuous bottle of packaged drinking water that looks crystal clear and inviting particularly on a hot summer day is not so safe to drink, after all. Tests on samples of packaged drinking water indicate the presence of bacteria found in human and animal faeces which means the water is contaminated and not fit for human consumption.

Of nine randomly picked up sealed bottles of packaged drinking water — HPMC, Thirst, KINLEY, FRESH ‘N’ COOL, AQUAFINA, Blue Label, EQUAL 212, Bisleri and Springwell — from the markets across Chandigarh, all samples have tested positive for bacteria which should not be present and are, therefore, not fit for drinking.

The brands listed above have tested positive in the microbiological analysis for the Coliform Group which comprises Escherichia coli or E. coli, Coliform and Faecal streptococci. This result was revealed in a test conducted by The Tribune, through the Department of Microbiology, Punjab Agriculture University (PAU).

Dr (Mrs) P.P. Sahota, believes, “It is not always necessary to isolate or detect the pathogenic organism in drinking water. The most important method is detection and enumeration of the faecal indicators. Faecal contamination of water indicated by detection of E.coli or increased numbers of Coliform bacteria always includes a high probability of occurrence of pathogens excreted by faeces. HPC or TPC determines hygienic quality of drinking water.”

She further spells out that, “The higher the number of total plate count signifies a positive co-relation with the instance for the outbreak of waterborne diseases. Total Plate Count expressed as Colony Forming Units per ml becomes one of the standard techniques for microbiological water quality testing. The impression we have drawn from these nine samples is that water is not hygienically acceptable and this indicates a malfunction of the water treatment process.”

The samples were picked up from locations as varied as the Sector-17 Inter State Bus Terminus to the roadside stalls at Zirakpur to markets at Sectors 8, 26, 28, 29 and 34.

Mr Avtar Singh, Deputy Director General of the Northern Regional Office of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) says, “Water is a ‘compulsory item’ regulated under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act of 1954, which, in turn, is governed by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs.”

The BIS has formulated separate standards for packaged drinking water and packaged natural mineral water. These are a list of stringent norms and regulations dealing with the Standard Mark (ISI) — hygiene, treatment, microbiological and chemical testing, packing and marking and labelling which must be followed during the manufacturing and packaging process.

The BIS Packaged Drinking Water Specifications state clearly the standard to follow — drinking water (which) means water from any potable source, including public drinking water supply systems under IS 10500 (Indian Standard for drinking water).

It also clearly lists that E coli, Coliform and Faecal Streptococci “shall be absent” in packaged drinking water.

Prior to the above tests, in an independent sample test conducted for the presence of E coli and Coliform, through a Chandigarh-based laboratory on six randomly picked up bottles of packaged drinking water — Springwell, EQUAL 212, FRESH ‘N’ COOL, Thirst, Bisleri and AQUAFINA — only AQUAFINA and Bisleri tested negative for E .coli, the other four samples namely Springwell, EQUAL 212, FRESH ‘N’ COOL and Thirst, tested positive for the presence of E coli.

The test for Coliform revealed that all samples, except for AQUAFINA, tested positive at the Chandigarh laboratory for the presence of Coliform in varying degrees. On getting these results, more bottles of these and other brands were picked up and sent for testing to Punjab Agriculture University. The tests were conducted twice by PAU to be absolutely certain of the results.

According to Dr. (Mrs.) Sahota, “The presence of E. coli is the most important indicator of water being contaminated.”

Mr Surjit Singh, CMD, Square Mineral Water Pvt. Ltd in Mohali, manufacturer of Springwell packaged drinking water, when asked about the quality of his product said, “Our products are made under the most stringent hygienic conditions. Our source of water is regularly tested and treated and our samples also undergo testing, sometimes even five times a day.

We also send our own people out into the market to collect random samples of our water to check for quality.”

Similarly, Mr Vinod Goyal, Director, Goyal Aqua & Packages Pvt. Ltd., Panchkula, who make the “FRESH ‘N’ COOL’ brand of packaged drinking water, said, “We cannot have our own bore wells here, so we are dependent on the Haryana Urban Planning and Development Authority (HUDA) for our water which is then purified, tested and packaged by us.”

Even Equal Minerals Plant Manager, Ms Sima Pandey Choudhary, believes that, “We have a good product in our hands”. Incidentally, Equal 212 is the only ISO 9001 certified packaged drinking water.

HPMC, Springwell, EQUAL 212, FRESH ‘N’ COOL and Thirst are all locally made with their bottle manufacturing units and bottling plants situated in the Industrial Areas at Mohali and Panchkula. Bisleri is bottled at Ludhiana, AQUAFINA at Jammu, Blue Label at Narela, Delhi and KINLEY in the district of Ludhiana.

Mr Avtar Singh clearly reiterated that the BIS regularly monitors licences and, “On any first critical failure with compliance to the regulations, BIS withdraws the licence.” BIS has already cancelled seven licences in the Northern Region.

Despite all three claiming that they follow norms laid down by the BIS, the presence of bacteria in packaged drinking water is indeed worrisome. FRESH ‘N’ COOL and Equal 212 are manufactured from water supplied by HUDA while Springwell is manufactured from water procured through a bore well on its site.

It is pertinent to point out that the plastic bottles are manufactured on site which restricts the possibility of contamination from procuring bottles from outside suppliers and despite this and the claims about treating the water with various purifying techniques like Ultra-Violet rays, .2-micron filter process and reverse- osmosis, the water still contains bacteria which indicate contamination.

Coliform bacteria

The presence of Coliform bacteria in drinking water indicates that the water has not been treated properly for pathogens or that it got contaminated somewhere in the distribution system. Similarly, the Escherichia coli or E. coli, a member of the Coliform group, are present in the human alimentary canal and are almost exclusively of faecal origin; thus, if it is found in water or food, it may indicate faecal contamination in the water.

Faecal Streptococci are a specific group of bacteria that are found in both human and animal faeces. They also persist in water supply for extended periods and are, therefore, a valuable indicator for determining the extent of faecal contamination of a water source.

Bacterial indications

  Name  TPC (< 100/ml)


























Blue Label

Not Potable

According to Dr (Mrs) P.P. Sahota, Associate Professor at the Department of Microbiology at PAU the most desirable index of pathogenic micro organism pollution is its presence or absence. The microbial indicator that has been suggested are heterotrophic plate count (HPC) or the Total Plate Count (TPC) of the total Coliform or Faecal Coliform, Faecal streptococci, anaerobe spore forming bacteria such as Clostridium perfringens, opportunistic pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, bacterial pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella or Shigella. All these are bacterial indications of contaminated water.

Results of the tests at Punjab Agriculture University for microbiological analysis: Standards for Packaged Drinking Water, Coliform and E. coli to be absent


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