India cracks down on companies making bottled water

NEW DELHI, India (AP) - The government has withdrawn quality certificates given to some of India's most popular brands of bottled water and was likely to close some of their plants after samples showed high levels of pesticide, officials said. 

India's Bureau of Standards has withdrawn the certificates for water produced at five plants, including one operated by Bisleri International, which makes one of India's most popular drinking water brands, inspection results made available to The Associated Press on Thursday showed. 

The documents also showed that Indian branches of multinational companies Pepsi and Coca-Cola - while not threatened with losing the licenses that allow their plants to operate 0- have been issued warnings as part of a major crackdown against companies ignoring the government's hygiene norms. 

Newspaper reports on Friday said the government was planning to enforce new standards for bottled water from April. 

The Hindustan Times newspaper quoted Health Minister Sushma Swaraj as making the announcement in Parliament. 

The new rules would require water to be tested for 32 pesticides, using internationally established methods, the report said. 

The norms applying to pesticide residue will be made more stringent. Companies will be asked to obtain additional approval of ground water authorities for the water they use to filter. 

The crackdown "is in the interest of the consumer, and also the industry,'' said Sunil Gupta, vice president of Coca-Cola India, acknowledging the warning letter that demanded improvement of equipment and testing methods at the company's southern Indian plant. 

"We will be doing it right away,'' Gupta said Thursday.Coca-Cola claims its Kinley brand now commands a 37 percent share _ the biggest _ of India's market. Bisleri, once the market leader, has a 32 percent share, Gupta said, citing an independent survey by a market research group. 

The Indian market for bottled water has been growing at more than 50 percent annually in recent years, making it a lucrative business that has drawn new manufacturers who may lack the expertise to produce safe water. 

The plants facing possible closure belong to leading manufacturers Bisleri International, Kothari Beverages and Ion Exchange, a Consumer Affairs Ministry official told the AP on condition of anonymity.  

The documents given to the AP showed that three plants belonging to these companies have already lost their government quality certificates. 

The crackdown came after a report by the Center for Science and Environment _ a New Delhi-based independent research body _ said early this month that samples of bottled water sold by most companies contained high levels of pesticides.  

n the tests, the pesticide residue levels were found to be as high as 104 times the internationally accepted norm. 

Indian newspapers have carried front page stories about the findings on the levels of pesticide, which can cause cancer, nervous disorders, or damage to fetuses. - AP 

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