Supreme Court letting hotels charge more for bottled water is good for us

Tikender Panwar
Tikender PanwarJan 01, 2018 | 18:35

Supreme Court letting hotels charge more for bottled water is good for us

The Supreme Court, in a recent order, has allowed hotels and restaurants to sell bottled water above the maximum retail price (MRP). It said that since the establishments render a service, they can charge more than the MRP; their sale of bottled water cannot be governed by the Legal Metrology act.

The government has said it will file a review petition to challenge this order. The bone of contention here: why should there be bottled water at hotels and restaurants and Reverse Osmosis (RO)-treated, filtered water in homes?


Should not this task of providing clean, potable water be the duty of the main service provider? In India, this work is done either by the civic bodies or parastatals under state governments.

In this milieu, the Supreme Court order throws open an opportunity for the citizens to engage with the state and its institutions to ensure that the government provides them ample water (135 litres per capita daily) — which does not require treatment.

A reading of municipal acts, especially the mandate of water distribution, shows that law explicitly states that the local body is supposed to provide potable water.

bisleri-bisler_010118063519.jpgWhy should there be bottled water at hotels and restaurants and Reverse Osmosis (RO)-treated, filtered water in homes? Photo: Reuters

For example, the Shimla Municipal Corporation — one of the oldest municipalities of the country (built in 1851) — has a clause on providing wholesome water: “It shall be the duty of the Corporation to take steps from time to time: for ascertaining the sufficiency and wholesomeness of water supplies within the municipal area.”

Similarly, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) has the obvious task of providing potable water to residents of Delhi, including those served by the municipal corporations and living in military areas. According to the DJB act of 1998, the service provider must “treat, supply and distribute water for household consumption or other purposes to those parts of Delhi where there are houses”.


Invariably, all these institutions have been built for providing quality water that is worth drinking from the tap. Then why should citizens, especially in cities, be forced to buy filters, ROs and other technology, which extract a heavy cost vis-à-vis water treatment?

It is the failure of the state and its agencies that forces ordinary citizens to fall back on big companies manufacturing water purifying equipment in the absence of treatment?

Why is water untreated?

One reason is poor infrastructure due to which water gets contaminated. There is low monitoring, testing, and hardly any transparency on the part of service providers. Another reason is the lack of responsibility shared by these institutions and nearly nonexistent standard operating procedures. Citizens’ participation is completely missing. This amounts to criminal negligence, thus leading to many deaths because of consumption of contaminated water — in 2017, this toll stood at 5,00,000.

However, there have been cases where proactive intervention has brought in landmark results — for example, under Shimla Municipal Corporation, the intervention set a precedent on integrated management not just for local bodies but also the World Bank. 

In Shimla, frequent episodes of jaundice were recorded every alternate year since 2005. In 2015-16, 20 people died and more than 2,000 were infected. One of the major reasons was the duality in water supply and distribution within the administrative set-up. At the time, water was supplied by the IPH (a government-run parastatal) and distributed by the Shimla municipality.


The blame game was obvious. The IPH maintained its position that it provided potable water, which would be contaminated during distribution. The SMC, in turn, said that it had no role in the contamination and that IPH was providing the dirty water.

The contamination, according to the National institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, happened to be from a Sewerage treatment (STP) plant constructed just 7km upstream from Ashwini Khad, a major water source. SMC registered police cases against IPH officials and had them arrested. This was not all. The entire system was then transferred to the corporation, which began the process of improvement. The SMC abandoned the source and augmented other points of supply, and the results have proven that the decision was in the right direction. Since 2015, not a single case of Hepatitis has been reported. Today, residents of the city drink clean, potable water directly from taps.

Few other interventions included integration of various institutions, onus on the individuals, transparency, as well as building a protocol on quality testing.

This has resulted in water potability being guaranteed by the local body. Done by a private party, the testing reports are made online and for all to view. This should reduce citizens’ reliance on ROs, water filters and other purifiers.

The Supreme Court order must be seen as an opportunity for citizens to engage with the system, to force it to ensure that quality potable water reaches their homes. Water is a right and not a need. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure citizens can exercise it.

Last updated: January 01, 2018 | 18:35
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