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Joshi meddles, Sharad fumes

New Delhi, Feb. 14: Food and consumer affairs minister Sharad Yadav is miffed with human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi for “interfering” in the affairs of his ministry and writing to the Prime Minister to take steps to strengthen the Bureau of Indian Standards in the wake of controversy over detection of pesticides in bottled water.

Joshi had on Wednesday criticised the consumer affairs ministry and the BIS for giving undue weightage to private companies in its certification committees. There was only one representative from the Indian Standards Institution (ISI) on the panels, while private companies had more, tilting the balance in favour of the latter in the decision-making process, Joshi had said.

Joshi had expressed concern over the detection of pesticides in bottled water and said he had urged Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to take concrete steps to strengthen the BIS and stop the sale of contaminated water.

Sources close to the food minister said Yadav is unhappy over Joshi’s “interference” in the affairs of his ministry. “If at all, as a minister, Joshi is concerned about the presence of pesticides in bottled water, he could have taken up the matter with the minister concerned or even in the Cabinet meeting, instead of going public,” said a close aide of Yadav.

“We never commented on the state of affairs in the human resources development ministry, which is dogged by controversies ever since Joshi took charge,” added the aide.

The day after the media reported the detection of pesticides in bottled water, Yadav convened a meeting and set up a high-level committee to probe the issue, the aide said. The minister had sought a report within three weeks and, on January 6 and 10, he wrote to health minister Sushma Swaraj, seeking her ministry’s cooperation in determining norms for purified water, he said.

“Sharadji took charge as food, public distribution and consumer affairs minister only seven months ago. It was the BJP’s own Shanta Kumar who was heading the ministry earlier. If there is something wrong with the BIS, Shanta Kumar is to be blamed, not Sharadji,” he said.

Water brands worry

Chief executives of bottled water companies are busy calculating the additional investment required to meet European Union standards on water safety, even as the firms await the Centre’s verdict on whether these standards will be applied or diluted norms set for the industry.

The BIS had started to align water-safety standards to that of the EU, following the Centre for Science and Environment’s report highlighting impurities in various bottled-water brands. However, it backtracked yesterday to say that it has formed a panel to determine whether the current norms are sufficient or more stringent ones were needed.

For the big brands in the Rs 1,000-crore industry — like Bisleri, Aquafina (from Pepsi) and Kinley (from Coke) — an upward revision of standards would mean investments running into hundreds of crores of rupees in purification and quality-control equipment.

A senior Coke official said the company will have to adhere to the norms set by the government, but maintained that the packaged water sold by the company meets World Health Organisation norms and does not pose any health hazard.

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