The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed all provinces to impose a tax of one rupee per litre on companies bottling and selling water while also constituting a committee to examine the quality of 'mineral water' being sold by these companies.
The tax will be applicable on water extracted from the ground by mineral water companies. The issue as it concerns beverages companies will be taken up at a later stage.
The committee to examine the quality of bottled water being sold in the markets will be headed by environmental scientist Dr Ahsan Siddiqui and include officials from the Environment Protection Agency, Punjab Food Authority as well as representatives of bottled water companies.
The committee will submit a report on its findings within the next 10 days. In case it finds that any company is selling 'substandard' mineral water, the company in question will be given three months to improve its product before punitive action is taken against it.
Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar issued orders to this effect while wrapping up a suo motu case pertaining to the exploitation of water resources by mineral water companies operating in the country.
The issue had cropped up in September during the hearing of a case related to the drying up of the Katas Raj pond due to heavy consumption of subsoil water by nearby cement factories.
Take a look: The real cost of bottled water
During today's hearing, a PepsiCo representative told the apex court that the company earns Rs158 million per year from bottled water. He said the company has been operating in the country for the last three decades.
Discussing the cost of bottled water, the representative said it cost the company Rs5 to add minerals to the water it extracts. At this, the CJP intervened and remarked that he had seen a report according to which there was no [additional] mineral in the water.
"Water companies have stolen water for their gains," CJP Nisar regretted, adding that the court will constitute a commission to find that how much water had been used up.
"Bottled water companies earn billions of rupees without paying a single penny: I will not let people die of thirst for the profit [of bottled water companies]," the CJP remarked.
"What would we say to our offspring 30 years hence if they do not have enough water to consume," the CJP said at one point.
"If you don't want to accept the deal [paying Re1 per litre], you are free to exit the industry," the CJP said while concluding the case.
"Show some courage and close the factory. I will see how long can you keep it closed," he challenged the companies.
During the last hearing, Justice Nisar had regretted that bottled water companies were selling water after extracting it from the ground almost for free and had summoned the owners of all mineral water companies to appear in person before the court on Nov 13 (today).