The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has levied fine of Rs 25 crore as environmental compensation on two companies/bottlers Moon Beverages and Varun Beverages, who are accountable for the manufacturing of products namely, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, as it found them guilty of exploiting groundwater for bottling plants in Uttar Pradesh.
The NGT's Bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson), Sudhir Agarwal and Brijesh Sethi (judicial members), and Prof A. Senthil Vel and Dr. Afroz Ahmad (expert members) ruled that the bottling plants were operating in violation of the CGWA's (Central Ground Water Authority) environment law because they were extracting groundwater without the necessary NOC (No Objection Certificate). The Companies were also found guilty of violating one of their licencing restrictions by failing to meet their groundwater recharge standards.
Significantly, the Tribunal stated that PPs [Project Proponents] will be required to pay environmental compensation for groundwater abstraction after the expiration of NOCs and failure to recharge groundwater in accordance with NOC conditions:
“It is alleged that PPs- 1 has not obtained any ‘No Objection Certificate’ (hereinafter referred to as ‘NOC’) from Central Ground Water Authority (hereinafter referred to as ‘CGWA’) for extraction of groundwater, though their units are situated in notified “overexploited” areas where abstraction of groundwater cannot be permitted. Further, Section 28 of Uttar Pradesh Ground Water (Management and Regulation) Act, 2019 (hereinafter referred to as ‘UPGWMR Act, 2019’) prohibits direct recharge from rainwater, falling on open land, grounds, roads (paved/unpaved), agricultural farms but PP-1 is indulged indirect recharge, contrary to Section 28(1) of UPGW Act, 2019. PP-1 is abstracting groundwater illegally and that too without any NOC from CGWA, hence liable for payment of compensation in accordance with the guidelines issued by Authorities concerned but in collusion with Authorities, it has not been saddled with any such liability and continuing with such illegal act”.
The National Green Tribunal fined the Greater Noida factory [Moon Beverages Ltd] Rs 1.85 crore, the Coca-Cola facility in Sahibabad [Moon Beverage Ltd] Rs 13.24 crore, and the Pepsi plant in Greater Noida [Varun Beverages Ltd] Rs 9.71 crore.
“381. In view of the above, we issue the following directions:
(a) PP-1 i.e., M/s. Moon Beverages Ltd., unit at 2B/1, Ecotech-III, Udhyog Kendra, Greater NOIDA, District Gautam Buddha Nagar, Uttar Pradesh shall pay Rs. 1,85,38,350/- as environmental compensation within one month.
(b) PP-2 i.e., M/s. Moon Beverage Ltd., unit at A-32, Site IV Sahibabad Industrial Area, Sahibabad district Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh shall pay Rs. 13,24,80,000/- as environmental compensation within two months.
(c) PP-3 i.e., M/s. Varun Beverages Ltd., unit at Plot No. 2E, Udyog Kendra, Ecotech-III, Greater NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh shall pay Rs. 9,71,33,440/- as environmental compensation within two months”
The Tribunal singled out not only the bottlers but also the government's Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA), saying:
“(f) CGWA is directed to forthwith issue appropriate orders/directions, regulating groundwater extraction in the light of observations made above and the orders passed by Supreme Court in M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India & Others (1997) (supra) and this Tribunal in various cases referred to in this judgment and must take all precautions and care to ensure that in OCS areas, groundwater should not be allowed to be extracted in such a manner that general people would have to face the problem of water for drinking and domestic purposes”.
The Tribunal also noted that the Uttar Pradesh Ground Water Department (UPGWD) attempted to confer a valid authority on PPs in order to justify continued groundwater extraction, despite the fact that they lacked such jurisdiction and had not conducted any inquiry or investigation into whether PPs had complied with earlier NOC conditions.
As a result, the Tribunal determined that UPGWD contributed to and is responsible for environmental damage as a result of illegal groundwater abstraction, for which it may be held liable.
The Tribunal also established a joint committee of the CPCB, CGWA, UPGWD, and UPPCB to conduct a survey in the state of U.P. and prepare data of various categories drawing groundwater for commercial purposes, study impact assessment, suggest ways and modes to reduce groundwater extraction in OCS areas, and improve groundwater level.
"The Committee may induct any other expert as it may find necessary. The District Magistrate of the concerned district where the Committee would visit, shall also be a member of the Committee. UPPCB shall be the nodal authority," the Tribunal ordered.