KARACHI - In a move to discourage illegal practice of selling contaminated drinking water through bottles, the legislators’ body of Sindh Assembly has recommended the government to enhance period of punishment to five years jail term and Rs0.5 million fine against the firms marketing and supplying contaminated water through various brands in the province.

The Special Committee of the House, which met at the committee room of Sindh Assembly on Saturday, also strongly proposed the Home Department to lodge FIRs against the firms which supplying the contaminated water through bottles despite banned by the Pakistan Standard and Quality Control Authority.   Following the unanimous adaptation of a resolution moved by Mrs. Aisha Khoso of the PPP few months back in provincial legislature, a house committee was formed comprising the chairmen of the standing committees of the assembly on law, health, environment, industries, and public health engineering, with a task to examine and investigate the quality of bottled water being marketed in Sindh and submit its report with recommendations of action against the companies found supplying contaminated water.

Out of five, only two members including its chief Syed Bachal Shah and MPA Haji Munwar Abbasi attended the meeting of special committee of house, while Mrs. Aisha Khoso, who was the mover of the resolution, took part in the proceedings.  Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority Director General Dr Akhtar Bughio informed the meeting that 73 companies had valid licenses of bottle drinking water, issued by the authority.

He, however, confirmed that 28 licences of bottled drinking water manufacturers have been cancelled in Sindh province, which did not fit on the standard of authority, besides four application of firms, who applied to supply bottled water have been rejected on account of substandard quality of water.

Despite cancellation of licences, majority of the manufacturers supplying the bottled drinking water to the citizens through illegal means, which need to take action against them as well as create awareness among the population to not purchase the water which is not fit for human consumption. According to list provided by the PSQCA official, a huge number of 36 manufacturers have valid licenses of bottled drinking water, however, all the 28 manufacturers whose licences have been cancelled are from Karachi.

PSQCA director general informed the meeting that authority has filled court cases against the manufacturers of bottled drinking water in Sindh, which are pending in the courts of judicial magistrate.

PSQCA official underlined the need to set up separate courts to prosecute the cases against the firms/individual involved in marketing and supplying contaminated water to the masses.

Similarly, an official of Karachi Municipal Corporation informed the committee that KMC also issues licences and registered the firms supplying the bottled drinking water in Karachi.

The Assembly’s committee expressed dissatisfaction over the check and surveillance system of the relevant authorities to monitor the quality of mineral water being supplied through bottles. 

Briefing the media about the outcome of meeting, Syed Bachal Shah, chairman of special committee of assembly said that elected body in its findings will recommend the government to enhance the punishment to five years jail term and Rs0.5 million fine from existing law of one year jail term and only rupees 50,000 fine against the firms/individual involved in the supplying contaminated water to the citizens.

A large number of citizens prefer bottled water due to poor quality of drinking water being supplied by civic authorities.

It may be noted here that the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) in its report has recently found 12 out of 77 bottled water brands unsafe for human consumption. According to report, the bacterial contamination of water causes hepatitis, typhoid, dysentery, diarrhoea and cholera, while presence of Arsenic in water is a cause of cancer, diabetes, kidney diseases, hypertension, heart ailments, birth defects and black foot diseases. Sodium causes hypertension.

Meanwhile, lawmaker Aisha Khoso told the meeting that 44 per cent urban population had access to clean drinking water. She said water being supplied in 23 cities of Sindh contained bacteria, which was dangerous for human consumption. She added that 90 per cent rural population had no access to clean drinking water.

In this situation, she said, urban population was depending on the costly bottled water being marketed by more than 29 companies. She added that the bottles made of recycled plastic, which was dangerous for health, were also being used for supply of drinking water.

According to experts, the quality of drinking water is deteriorating continuously due to biological contamination caused by human waste. Chemical pollutants of industries and agricultural inputs are also harming water quality. Piped water also gets contaminated because pipes are laid very close to sewerage lines or open drains and causes many serious water-borne diseases.

According to the latest figures released by UNICEF and the WHO, only 48pc of the population has access to safe sanitation in Pakistan. The MDG target for Pakistan is 64pc to have access to improved sanitation by 2015. The government of Pakistan acknowledged the sanitation crisis in South Asia at the fourth South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN) in April 2011 and again at the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in November.