From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Water standard
Mains level : Piped water quality in India
The report of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution red-flagged tap water quality in major Indian cities.
- BIS – The tests were carried out by the Bureau of Indian Standards for the Ministry.
- Delhi least – Delhi has abysmal water quality. Chennai and Kolkata rank very low. Mumbai is the only city with acceptable results.
- This is not surprising as many official water distribution agencies routinely advise consumers to consume only boiled water.
- Standard – City water systems are required to comply with the national standard for drinking water, IS 10500:2012.
- Requirements – the Indian standard has a plethora of quality requirements, including the absence of viruses, parasites and microscopic organisms, and control over levels of toxic substances.
Reasons for poor quality
- Packaged water – lack of initiative could be attributed to the expanding use of packaged drinking water in populous cities.
- Groundwater use — high dependence on groundwater in fast-growing urban clusters where State provision of piped water systems does not exist.
- Poor standards in practice – municipal water fails the tests due to the lack of accountability of the official agencies, and the absence of robust data in the public domain on quality testing.
Solving the problem
- Name & shame – The Centre’s approach relies on naming and shaming through a system of ranking.
- May not be effective – This is unlikely to yield results as in similar attempts to benchmark other urban services.
- Legally binding – Making it legally binding on agencies to achieve standards and empowering consumers with rights is essential.
- Integrated view – state governments should take an integrated view of housing, water supply, sanitation, and waste management.
- Scientific – A scientific approach to water management is vital, considering that 21 cities could run out of groundwater as early as 2020 as per a NITI Aayog report.
- Water crisis – the Central Ground Water Board estimates that nearly a fifth of the urban local bodies is already facing a water crisis due to excessive extraction, failed monsoons, and unplanned development.
- Regular testing – entrust the task to a separate agency in each State, rather than relying on the agency that provides water to perform this function.
- Public data – If data on the water are made public on the same lines as air quality, it would increase pressure on governments to act.
The response of water departments to the challenge has been to chlorinate the supply, as this removes pathogens, ignoring such aspects as appearance, smell, and taste. It is time to move beyond this and make tap water genuinely desirable.