The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has imposed about ₹25 crore on two Indian bottlers of US cola majors Coca-Cola and Pepsi for causing environmental damages in Uttar Pradesh by illegally extracting groundwater.
The NGT ruled that Moon Beverages (Coca Cola) and Varun Beverages (PepsiCo) were in violation of environmental legislation issued by the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA), as they operated without the requisite no objection certificate (NOC) to withdraw groundwater.
“We are of the view that PPs (Project Proponents) are responsible for illegal extraction of groundwater at least after the expiry of NOCs, issued to them by the CGWA. They continued to extract groundwater without any authority. Further, they are also liable to pay environmental compensation for causing loss to the environment by failing to comply with the most crucial condition of NOCs, i.e., recharge of water,” the judgement said.
Both companies were also accused of violating the terms of their licenses by failing to meet their requirements for recharging groundwater. Therefore, Moon Beverages (Coca Cola) and Varun Beverages (PepsiCo) were ordered to pay a total of ₹25 crores for illegal groundwater extraction and damage to the environment.
In the quorum were retired Supreme Court Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel, chairman, Sudhir Agarwal and Brijesh Sethi, judicial members, and Professor A Senthil Vel and Dr Afroz Ahmed as expert members.
The NGT criticised the government-controlled CGWA, pointing to various flaws in its operations.
“Time and again, acting in a most callous and defiant mode, CGWA has proceeded in its own way, going to the extent of permitting wholly illegally massive exploitation of groundwater, that too, in extremely stressed areas, wholly unconcerned with the consequences,” the NGT bemoaned.
The Uttar Pradesh Groundwater Department (UPGWD) was also held responsible as the agency sought to empower companies to extract groundwater without the authority to do so.
“They have also contributed to and are responsible for harming the environment by illegally extracting groundwater, for which they may be responsible,” the NGT said.
The court also imposed environmental compensation of ₹1.85 crore on Moon Beverages Limited in Greater Noida, ₹13.24 crore on Moon Beverage Limited’s Sahibabad unit and ₹9.71 crore on Varun Beverages Limited’s Greater Noida unit.
A joint committee comprising the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and Hydropower, Central Pollution Control Board, Central Groundwater Authority, Uttar Pradesh Groundwater Department and District Magistrates of the respective districts has been formed to ensure that the compensation received is utilised for groundwater recharge.
Lawyer Rohit Kumar Tuteja appeared for the petitioners. attorneys AK Prasad, Pradeep Mishra, Dalip Dhiani, Balendu Shekhar, Raj Kumar, Pooja Kalra, Sanjay Upadhyay and Jawaharlal represented the accused.