A total of 1094 water samples from 326 springs, 207 streams, 183 dug wells, 151 piped supplies, 90 tube wells, 75 hand pumps, 60 rivers and 2 lakes were collected from eight northern and six north-eastern districts of India. Samples were analysed to assess their potability by estimating the level of heavy metals and bacterial (coliform and faecal coliform) contaminations. Iron was found in a maximum number (53%) of water samples from hand pumps, followed by lead in 43% of the tube wells, chromium in 16% of dug wells, cadmium in 13% of streams and manganese in 7% of hand pumps above their maximum admissible concentrations (MACs). Maximum metal pollution has been observed in a considerable number of water samples from Doda, followed by Almora, Mirzapur and Bankura. Hand pump water samples exhibited maximum metal pollution followed by dug well, spring, stream and river water samples. Contamination of coliform and/or faecal coliform bacteria ranged between 41% and 67% of water samples from open water sources but it was also less, i.e. 6-15% of water samples from tube wells and hand pumps. In general, 42-85% of water samples from districts surveyed, except from Jammu (18%) and Mirzapur (27%), were found to be bacteriologically unsatisfactory. Since toxic metals and pathogenic bacteria pose a risk to public health, monitoring of drinking water sources is required.