That might be the common scene in many rural parts of India. But big business is entering the water business in a big way.
Reliance may convert its several hundred fuel stations into drinking water stations! TATA, Aquafina, Bisleri, Kinley may follow Reliance in setting up similar outlets to provide alternate and better choices for the common public. The government may also open such outlets as one of their populist schemes.
Sounds absurd?? Funny?? Ridiculous??
But it could indeed happen if we continue to focus on Audis, I-phones, newly released apps and gadgets; we will never get time to think about our life line – water.
Every time a new phone is introduced in the market, millions of websites provide data and expert opinion about the product. The NDTV has a dedicated program “Gadget Guru” for the purpose.
Now recall the opening scene in K Balachander’s Thanneer Thanneer (Water, Water) wherein a small boy, trudging along with a pot of water, distracted by a torn picture of Rajnikanth floating in the air, stumbles and falls down. Some such thing is happening now on a different plane.
While intellectuals are busy debating inside air-conditioned TV studios and social activists are busy exposing various scams in our country, the horror story on the water front is almost universally ignored.
How water that’s available for free and should be community property is now being commodified, how big business is itching to making huge profits out of fear – fear they most cynically cultivate in us and then play upon it relentlessly, that is the story.
It should have been stopped when it started. Unfortunately, we did not have enough knowledge on the subject. But do we have now? Even today, no universities in India offer courses on “Drinking Water.” We have only “waste water treatment” courses in reputed institutions like IIT.
We are all responsible for the present crisis situation. For we took water for granted and we are now paying price – perhaps deservedly. But it is the vast masses who pay up in various ways and not us the urban middle classes.
Bottled/packaged/’treated’ water has become an inseparable part of our life. Of course only Bisleri, Kinley, Aquafina are the three major brands now, but the major market share is with the local players, as mentioned in the previous part.
The latter, though exploiting the brand image created by corporate to the hilt, actually make water that is absolutely substandard.
In May 2013, water packaging units across Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur districts pulled down shutters in protest against the closure of 92 units in and around Chennai by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB). These units did not have the requisite permits from the TNPCB, which asked the Electricity Department to disconnect power supply to them.
Chennaiites panicked. Eventually both the National Green Bench Tribunal and the government gave in.
See what the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had to say on the units:
There was another Hindu report on the safety of the packaged water – http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/water-water-everywhere-but-how-many-brands-are-safe-to-drink/article3343142.ece
The matter is still being fought over before the Tribunal, even though it was the Green Bench that had taken suo motu cognizance of the issue earlier!
So quality is sacrificed and people’s life and health endangered, and no one is even aware of what transpired, what were the corrective measures (if any) taken by those water packaging units, whether it is being monitored properly and so on. That is a very ominous development.
There is another dimension: Tthe MNCs swear they follow every rule and provide quality water to the consumer. The truth of their claims apart, how can the dominant small-scale sector match the quality of the branded products? Who is monitoring them?
If we carefully read the history of bottled water, we can predict the future. Unlike other industries, here plans are drawn at least 10 years in advance. It started with “Your tap water is poison” ad in United States.
Constantly fear is injected in the minds of common people every day and everywhere. As the fear takes hold of people’s minds across the globe, and they just seem unable to carry on even for a single day without the packaged water, the market zooms sky high. None would pause to think whether water of equally good quality could be available nearby and free of cost at that, but they would panic as did the Chennai citizens last year.
In such a scenario the corporates can take over the entire industry over a period of time, easily elbowing out the local players, at least that’s what they should be hoping. Hence the blitzkrieg of ads.
Thus the daily drudgery of drawing water will continue to varying degrees in many rural parts but moneybags will invest in water supply systems focusing on the urban sector and make huge profits, while the groundwater table will continue to go down alarmingly.
When natural resources are allowed to be exploited freely, you spawn Reddy brothers and the Vedantas, sometimes radically affecting people’s lives and in turn triggering violent protests.
Water is a natural resource and everyone has equal rights to it. What right do these private players have to sell water for a price? Do they pay any price for the raw material, .i.e. the ground water? Am I allowed to sell a national property? Which legislator is asking such questions anyway.
You may also like to know that the TATA Water Plus has been launched by NourishCo, a joint venture between Tata Global Beverages Limited and PepsiCo. But are they not competitors? Welcome to the world of Matrix! Enemies can turn friends in their own larger interests. Of course the victims are the consuming public.
The product website claims, “Tata Water Plus has been specially created by global nutrition experts using leading edge ingredients and process. Fortified with bio available Copper and Zinc, it does more than quench your thirst. Copper helps support body functions and Zinc helps strengthen the Immune system. One litre of this product meets 40% RDA for Copper and 30% for Zinc.
“What’s more, Tata Water plus looks and tastes just like Water. Now every time you get thirsty, you have a wonderful opportunity to get healthy. Tata Water Plus is available in a 1 litre PET bottle priced at Rs. 20 and a 200 ml pouch priced at Rs. 2.”
They also say that it is the “FIRST EVER WATER FORTIFIED WITH NUTRIENTS”
Copper 0.08 mg/100 ml and zinc 0.3 mg/100 ml.
Why should they add copper and zinc? Because, copper is an essential micronutrient KNOWN to help strengthen immune system and copper is an essential trace element RECOGNIZED to help support body functions.
Note the words “KNOWN” AND “RECOGNIZED.”
Yes, our grandfathers 100 years back told us the same thing. But our whiz kids didn’t pay heed to the wisdom of our forefathers and went ahead to remove essential nutrients along with impurities in the RO process, and now they say they are adding copper and zinc subsequently !
Why on earth should one go for a purification system that will remove the nutrients too in the name of removing impurities and then go on to add some of the nutrients so removed !
The answer is that the RO technology is versatile and could be put to use over a diverse range – from desalination plants to purification at home.
More important, it has taken such firm roots all over, it will be a herculean task to introduce some other equally effective technology that doesn’t remove nutrients while purifying.
When status quo means continued rise in profits, who would plump for alternative low-cost technologies, even if endorsed by the UN itself? Predictably no government is enthusiastic – why would they, when their corporate backers are not interested.
I remember, at a water expo in Chennai, a gentleman told me that he wanted to start herbal water business. Basically, his idea was to add tulsi (basil leaf) to well-water and market it as “Herbal Water.” His baseline is, temples all over the world use such water as “theertham” and is known to have health benefits. So Tulsi as an alternative to TATA’s copper could prove far more appealing, isn’t it? But I don’t know what happened to his project subsequently.
And so various “out-of-the-box” ideas would pour out – not to help out people, but to maximize profits. Politicians and bureaucrats everywhere will happily play along. So it is for the civil society to intervene before the MNC-run water stations become a reality.
There is no substitute for water. There are no apps for water. It is vital for our existence. Let us do something to save water and our future generations. Let there be a world for the poor too. Let there be life and dignity to them. It is our duty and responsibility to at least see what is happening in water sector, because it our LIFELINE.