Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar on Sunday ordered a forensic audit of Nestle's mineral water operations and directed that samples from all major mineral water companies be checked.

The chief justice passed the order while hearing a suo motu case pertaining to the alleged exploitation of water resources by mineral water companies operating in the country. The issue cropped up during the hearing of a case on Friday related to drying up of the Katas Raj pond due to consumption of a huge amount of water by nearby cement factories that are sucking water through drill bores, severely reducing subsoil water level.

The CJP had noted that water had become a very precious commodity, but bottled water companies were selling their produce at exorbitant prices by extracting water from subsoil free of cost. He said the Supreme Court would take all possible steps to preserve water in the country.

The SC's Lahore Registry on Friday sought complete information and data on extraction of water by these business ventures, and on Saturday, summoned the heads of all major mineral water companies to appear before it today.

In today's hearing, senior lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, on behalf of Nestle, sought one month's time to submit a report but the chief justice turned down the plea.

"Give us one month to present our own report on this, then after that you may get a forensic audit done," Ahsan suggested, but the CJP dismissed the request and directed that a forensic audit report be submitted in 15 days.

The court also issued orders for testing samples of the big mineral water companies in the country. "It will be decided after the forensic audit that how much the companies should pay to the government for water," the chief justice said.

"The mineral water companies have been earning for the past 20 years [without paying for it]," Justice Ijazul Ahsan remarked.

The chief justice said that the time has come to pay back to the nation. "A sense of accountability has started to prevail among people. After this case, the companies will pay a suitable fee [for the water they use] and will sell [the mineral water] at a suitable price," he said.

CJP Nisar said: "The matter of water is an issue which cannot be neglected. Next in turn are big societies which obtain water from tubewells and charge residents for the water. These societies do not pay to the government."

"We will take notice against big societies next week," he said

On Saturday, the federal government had submitted a preliminary report regarding mineral water companies operating in the country. According to the report, 82 such units are operating in Karachi, 16 in Sukkur, 15 in Hyderabad, 12 in Islamabad and eight in Lahore.

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