The Supreme Court on Thursday cautioned mineral water companies that the cost borne by them to use groundwater must not be passed on to consumers.
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar issued the warning while hearing a suo motu case regarding the sale of bottled water and extraction of groundwater by bottled water companies.
The court had been informed on Monday that bottled water companies in the country were extracting seven billion litres of groundwater per month to sell it as mineral water for public consumption.
“If Re1 per litre is charged, the amount for extracting seven billion litres of water becomes Rs7 billion every month,” said a report submitted by a Supreme Court-formed committee.
Justice Nisar had then directed bottled water companies to pay the price of groundwater and improve the quality of their products within a week, warning their owners that the firms will otherwise be shut down.
Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, who was representing Nestle Water Company at the hearing, remarked that the top court had taken a major step by regulating water companies.
At this, Justice Nisar said: "Whatever can be done expediently must be done regarding the [proper] treatment of water and whatever areas can afford a delay must have a time frame set."
The chief justice warned that the price of using groundwater had been fixed by the court and must not be avoided by the companies.
"The burden of cost borne by companies for groundwater usage shall not be transferred to consumers," Justice Nisar declared.
He observed that the government of Sindh had set prices for the use of groundwater.
"Balochistan too has set prices for mineral water and soft drinks," a representative from the Balochistan government informed the court.
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Justice Nisar said the theft of resources must be guarded against and every measure must be taken with "good intent".
"I had been thinking of launching a movement against the use of mineral water," the top judge remarked at one point.
The bench ordered bottled water companies to sit down with the court-appointed water commission and decide on how to improve the quality of water and the treatment methods to be employed.
A detailed report must be submitted to the court on December 13 regarding all the recommendations decided upon, the bench further instructed.
The hearing was adjourned until next Thursday.