Data released by the Union ministry of Jal Shakti in the Lok Sabha last week revealed that TN has 3,299 licensed mineral water, packaged drinking water and carbonated beverage units and bottling plants, which is 18% of the total such units running in the country. The licences were issued by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in Tamil Nadu.
According to the Tamil Nadu Packaged Drinking Water Manufacturers Association, there are around 500 units in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts. Vice-president of the association M S Ezhangeswaran said each unit has different production capacities and working hours based on demand.
“A packaged drinking water unit with an average production capacity of 3,000 litres per hour and running for seven hours requires 42,000 litres of water a day. About 50% of the sourced water, which is subjected to reverse osmosis, would end up as reject water,” he said. “Water is either drawn from the ground or purchased through tankers whose source is also groundwater,” he said.
This apart, two carbonated beverage units of leading soft drink brands are operating in Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts. Each draws at least five lakh litres of groundwater a day, said a hydrogeologist. However, their drawing capacity could not be independently verified. Besides these, sources said, 15 unlicensed packaged drinking water units are operating in Tiruvallur district near the border with Andhra Pradesh.
G Sundarrajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal, a voluntary organisation that canvasses for the environment, said the revelation came against the backdrop of NITI Aayog warning that 21 Indian cities including Chennai would run out of water by 2020. “We are moving towards a groundwater disaster. On one hand, the surface water resources are being destroyed and on the other groundwater resources are being over-exploited,” he said. Waste water from the units are let into the surface polluting the groundwater further, he said.
City-based hydrogeologist J Saravanan said such practices were dangerous because they would increase the salinity of the groundwater. “For instance, if total dissolved solids (TDS) levels of groundwater was 1,000 milligram per litre in a location, introducing reject water will increase the TDS levels by another 2,000 milligram per litre,” he said. Saravanan said there should be a blanket ban on issuing licences for any more bottling units for the next five years. “Also, Tamil Nadu must take a cue from the Karnataka government which is considering a five-year ban on construction of apartments in Bengaluru due to the water crisis. It is the need of the hour,” he said.