New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has slapped a fine of $2 million and $1.3 million, respectively, on two Indian bottlers of US beverage majors Coca-Cola and Pepsi for causing environmental damages in India.
“Coca-Cola's Indian bottler, Moon Beverages, has been fined US$ 2 million by the country's highest green court for causing environmental damages at two of its bottling plants in India. PepsiCo's bottler, Varun Beverages, has also been found guilty of damaging the environment and fined US$ 1.3 million by the National Green Tribunal,” said a press release by India Resource Centre (IRC), which is part of a global resistance movement against corporate globalisation.
The Coca-Cola bottling plants are located in Greater Noida and Sahibabad, and the PepsiCo plant in Greater Noida.
According to the 246-page judgment released last Friday, NGT hauled up the three bottling facilities for violation of environmental laws issued by the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) by operating without the required "No Objection Certificate" (NOC) to withdraw ground water.
Both the companies were also accused of violating the licence terms by not fulfilling the obligations to recharge ground water, said the release.
The Tribunal wrote that the companies "are responsible for illegal extraction of ground water at least after expiry of NOCs, issued to them by CGWA. They continued to extract ground water without any authority. Further, they are also liable to pay environmental compensation for causing loss to environment by failing to comply with the most crucial condition of NOCs, i.e., recharge of water."
The IRC release also pointed out that while both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo publicise their “exemplary water conservation achievements” around the world, the “Indian High Court found that PepsiCo only recharged 4% of the water it was required to (and had agreed to) as a condition of their license. The Coca-Cola bottler did not even bother to offer any water recharge numbers to the court, even though it was invited to do so.”
IRC said it had scrutinised the claims made by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo for over a decade and found them to be designed “to deflect criticism of its water management practices than actually making any concrete changes on the ground.”
The CGWA, as per NRC, has also told the court that it will no longer provide NOC to the bottling plants because these are located in water stressed areas, known as over-exploited, critical or semi-critical, depending on the state of the ground water resource.
The NGT came down strongly on government regulator CGWA as well, and pointed out numerous deficiencies in its functioning. "CGWA for the reasons best known to it acted wholly illegally", it said, adding that many of its regulations to conserve ground water were "illusory".
IRC pointed out that Coca-Cola has been the target of community-led campaigns in India for causing water shortages and pollution for over a decade. A number of Coca-Cola bottling plants, including in Plachimada (Kerala), Kala Dera (Rajasthan), and Mehdiganj (Uttar Pradesh) were shut down as a result.
"The fines and scrutiny by the National Green Tribunal on Coca-Cola and PepsiCo's continued violation of environmental laws in India are welcome. However, the monetary fines are too little for the global giants to have any deterrent effect. They will continue to pay such fines to pollute and degrade groundwater. For them, it is essentially a pay to pollute regime," said Amit Srivastava of IRC.