The government’s move to place curbs on reverse osmosis (RO) water purifiers is being keenly watched across the country. In the last decade, RO purifiers have become popular in large cities like Delhi and in industrial townships following reports of presence of heavy metals in water and the fear of water-borne diseases. But ROs have also sparked concerns over wasteful discharge of water during the purification process and the health implications of reverse osmosis stripping drinking water of vital minerals needed for the human body.
Last year, National Green Tribunal prohibited the use of RO purifiers in areas where TDS levels are below 500 mg per litre, kickstarting the current fight. Slightly deviating from the NGT ruling, government’s draft notification prohibits RO purifiers in areas where water quality meets BIS standards. Government is also planning to work with RO manufacturers to tweak purifier design to curb water wastage and will task the Central/State Pollution Control Boards to enforce norms. But there is a more important task at hand: government must tackle the widely prevalent mistrust in water supplied by state agencies.
Last year, BIS tests on water samples from 20 state capitals found all samples in 13 cities unsafe and one or more samples in six others unsafe. Mumbai was the lone saving grace with all 10 samples complying. Such findings buttress the market for RO purifiers. Bans won’t succeed and could even be met with public disobedience unless states fix problems at their own end. Delhi’s last rank in the BIS tests has even become an election issue with AAP and BJP sparring over water quality. While the design tweaks on purifiers proceed, government must delay the crackdown on ROs in so called “safe supply” areas until consistent evidence through regular and well publicised water quality tests can convince the sceptical public.