The year has seen many news reports about national and global water bottling brands abstracting groundwater without valid licenses. In the wake of severe drought, thermal power plants have been criticized for aggravating the water crisis. Reports have suggested that many new thermal power plants are proposed to be built in already water scarce regions. This brief report also covers some judicial orders on this subject.
Coca Cola In February 2016, just before the start of summer, Coca Cola, the soft drink giant reportedly stopped manufacturing operations in three of its plants located in Jaipur, Vishakhapatnam and Meghalaya. In March 2016, two more plants were learnt to stop operations.
As per reports, the company was exploring options to sell the company-owned bottling business citing lower demand but growing groundwater scarcity as compelling force leading to the shutdown of operation. As per reports, the company has been operating around 54 plants in India of which 25 are company-owned, 24 are franchisee plants and five are co-packers.
Notably it’s Jaipur based plant was opened in 2000 despite the fact that the area’s ground water was declared as over-exploited. Groundwater levels have reportedly plummeted in the area ever since Coca-Cola began operations there and the increased difficulty in accessing groundwater from the depleted aquifer was one of the main reasons given by company officials for the plant’s closure.
In June 2016, a First Information Report (FIR) was registered by Kerala against Coca-Cola company on charge of exploiting and polluting groundwater sources in the Scheduled Caste community area of Plachimada region. In a major development, the Madras High Court, in December 2016 prohibited diversion of Tamirabarani river water for two months to Coca-Cola and Pepsi producing plants in Gangaikondan due to the severe water shortages. As per latest reports, the court on March 01, 2017 has revoked the restriction. Disappointed over the decision, local community is also learnt resuming protest against the company. Meanwhile, thousands of traders have decided to boycott sale of fizzy drinks including Coca-Cola and Pepsi for exploiting the water resources.
Other Developments related to Coca Cola
Amid reports of winding up business, Coca Cola company was learnt to invest Rs 750 crore to set up a plant in Babai-Mohasa industrial area of Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh. As per reports, in 1970s, the area was carved out of agriculture land to build a farming technique institute but in 2012, the State Cabinet decided to hand over 1,600 acres of the farm to the department of industry.
In a setback to affected people, the President of India, in February 2016, returned the Plachimada Coca Cola Victims Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill, which was passed unanimously by the Kerala Assembly in 2011. The Bill was passed to ensure that villagers are recompensed for the severe exploitation of groundwater resources and destruction of livelihood by Coca Cola and had provisions for initiating legal actions against the company for draining groundwater.
Meanwhile, the inactions by Kerala State Govt in ending the over-exploitation of groundwater by Pepsico bottling plant at Kanjikode, has caused widespread resentment among the water-starved local community in drought hit Pudussery-Malampuzha belt. The company is also accused of operating ten bore wells of over six inches in diameter for exploiting groundwater. Though the panchayat has issued a stop memo, the company refused to heed it. Villagers have alleged that the Pepsi plant, in 53 acres, uses nearly 48.5 per cent of the available groundwater in the region.
Bottling Plant Illegally Drawing Groundwater
In June 2016, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) revealed that out of the 6,000 packaged drinking water bottling units in India, over 4,300 (three fourths) were operating without proper licenses including the big names such as Bisleri, Pepsi Co’s Aquafina and Coca-Cola’s Kinley.
Thermal Power Plants Escalating the Water Crisis
According to an analysis published in June 2016, water shortages have caused shutting down of coal based power in West Bengal, Karnataka and Maharashtra affecting NTPC, Adani Power, GMR, Mahagenco and Karnataka Power Corporation. The report disclosed that most of the losses have occurred between March and May 2016 when plants have been unable to run due to a lack of water for cooling. The report further says that over 40 per cent of the proposed Indian coal fleet is in highly stressed water use areas and if all the proposed coal plants are built, India’s coal fleet would double its current water consumption to 15.33 billion cubic metre per year more than any other country, including China.
Coal Mining Continue to Pollute Water Sources
In January 2016, the Nagaland Pollution Control Board (NPCB) in a report expressed concern at coal mining operations in Nagaland being a major source of water pollution. As per report, the excavated soil and coal residue in this terrain were left exposed and during rain, leaching takes place and the water containing SO2 gets into the streams contaminating groundwater, streams, soil, plants, animals and humans. The NCPB has warned that these heavy metals are linked to serious health problems including an increase in birth defects.
Some judicial orders on Groundwater Crisis and Abuse
Supreme Court on Drought In its landmark judgment in May 2016 the Supreme Court while prescribing paradigm shift in drought monitoring and management, rapped state governments for showing an “ostrich-like attitude” and denying reality. The apex court mandated the formulation of a national plan. The key highlights of decisions are here.
National In April 2016, the massive extraction of groundwater by the Railways to clean train coaches and platforms caught the attention of the NGT which sought responses from Railway Ministry, Environment Ministry and CGWB after a plea alleged that the state run behemoth was extracting groundwater without permission from concerned authorities.
Delhi In March 2016, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) imposed a fine of Rs 5 lakh on M/s ABW Infra Ltd a real estate developer after finding their rainwater harvesting system non-functional in South Delhi. The green panel was hearing a plea seeking directions to Delhi Metro Rail Corp to “install proper rainwater harvesting system” on all its existing, proposed and under-construction metro stations, tracks and depots.
Widening the ambit of the petition, the green tribunal following hearings directed Central Ground Water Authority and DJB to fix a uniform procedure for installation of rainwater harvesting system in hotels, hospitals and malls in the national capital. It also asked CGWA, DJB and Delhi Pollution Control Committee to prescribe a format and proper design for rainwater harvesting system.
In June 2016, the NGT directed DJB to prepare a scheme on using the water released from STPs in stadiums and for washing Delhi Metro trains and DTC buses. The green panel asked DJB to conduct a study in this regard and find out the best possible way to re-use the water generated from the STPs.
In an affidavit, the Environment Ministry in July 2016 told the NGT that the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) had the mandate to regulate groundwater extraction by “industries / projects” including DMRC. The affidavit was filed by the Ministry in response to a plea alleging that DMRC was extracting groundwater instead of using wastewater to wash its trains, resulting in depletion of water table. The plea had sought directions to DMRC to compensate as per “Polluter Pays Principle” for exploiting the groundwater without any permission from the requisite authorities.
In August 2016, a new petition was filed in NGT asking for directions to the agencies concerned on rainwater harvesting (RWH) along roads and on flyovers. Though NGT issued directions to PWD to carry out RWH on all 90 flyovers in 2015 the order has been grossly violated. Same month, one more petition was filed in green tribunal seeking directions to make RWH compulsory for all government buildings of 100 sq. m and above to start rainwater harvesting. Accepting the petition, the court asked all land-owning agencies to figure out the gaps in RWH implementation on the city flyovers.
Uttar Pradesh In March 2016, the green panel issued notices to Centre and Uttar Pradesh State Government over incessant and rampant extraction of groundwater by industries and households in Ghaziabad and Hapur districts. The plea seeking closure of all industrial units revealed that Ghaziabad and Hapur were notified areas hence industries were drawing the groundwater illegally. Responding to notices Ghaziabad administration revealed that out of 233 industries 187 units were extracting the ground water which included textiles, leather, distilleries, packaged drinking water units.
In August 2016, a PIL was filed in Supreme Court, in which the petitioner sought transfer of their case from Allahabad High Court to NGT claiming that a portion of the HC Allahabad building in Lucknow was situated over a pond, hence would not be appropriate for the HC to decide related matters.
In Conclusion In spite of so many petitions, we see complete lack of progress in any effective regulation of groundwater. Only goes to show ineffectiveness of the judiciary in ensuring effective, democratic governance and regulation of groundwater.
Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org) SANDRP