ISLAMABAD - Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar on Monday reiterated his idea of generating funds for construction of dams through imposing tax on mineral water companies which are involved in free of cost water extraction,.

The chief justice observed that the funds could easily be generated by imposing tax on bottled water companies, which are extracting 7 billion litres of water monthly, and contribution of Rs1,000 billion by a real estate tycoon. “We will not have to go for any other option if we gather the amount from these two sources”, observed the chief justice.

The critics of construction of dams through Supreme Court also welcomed the idea of getting funds from industrialists like mineral water companies instead of burdening the public.

Heading a 3-judge bench, the chief justice observed that the bottled water companies should pay the cost on extraction of water and that they should devise action plan for it. The chief justice further said that billions of rupees could be generated in few months for dams if tax of Rs1 per litre is imposed on bottled water companies.

“Rs1,000 billion will be taken from another client of Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan as contribution”, said the CJ, recalling another case regarding land acquisition by real estate tycoon whose counsel is Barrister Ahsan.

The chief justice observed that contribution from any other option would not be required if the funds are generated from these two sources.

The bench was hearing a suo moto case regarding free of cost extraction of water by bottled water companies.

The chief justice expressed displeasure that the companies were selling a litre bottle for Rs50 without paying a single penny as tax.

During the hearing, a 2-member Commission comprising environmental scientist Dr Ahsan Siddiqui and Director General Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Farzana Altaf Shah submitted its report.  The Commission visited 44 water bottling factories and beverages plants of national and multi-national companies.

During inspections, it was observed that many water bottling and beverages plants had not installed flow meters on their extraction units. Therefore, the commission strongly recommended installation of flow meters on every extraction unit in those plants.

The report stated that all the beverages companies excluding a few were using antiscalant chemical, a pre-treatment injected into the feed water which delays the reaction between calcium, magnesium and bicarbonate, to avoid blockage of membranes of Reverse Osmosis.

Besides this, minerals from water are also diminished making it more acidic resulting the process more expensive for the companies. Therefore, it is recommended that the companies should minimise the usage of antiscalant, the commission report stated.

An astonishing fact is observed that two beverage companies, the Pepsi Sukkur (Indus River) and Pepsi Hyderabad (Canal Water), are using river water in their products.

The Commission observed that Reverse Osmosis operators at various beverage plants are not up to the required standards. So the RO operators in those companies required extensive capability development training.

It was observed that some of the water bottling and beverages plants had no relevant environmental approvals. Therefore, it is recommended that all such plants shall obtain approval in context to their environmental management plan (EMP) requirement from relevant provincial/ federals EPAs. All companies use carbon dioxide in their products and purchase the same from other vendors without proper analysis, it added.

It is recommended that the companies should hire personnel having at least M.Sc. Chemistry and Environmental Engineers for respective concerns.  It is strongly recommended that discharge water should be used for agricultural purposes rather than direct discharge in sewerage lines.

During inspection, it was observed that concentration of minerals mentioned on the water bottle label were not accurate.

“Special measures should be taken by all companies to minimise the plastic waste generated by them through awareness campaigns on print and social media.”

Environmental scientist Siddiqui while submitting report informed the bench that 44 companies are operating in country and 7 billion litre of water is being extracted monthly.

He said that toxic chemicals are being used for water filtration and waste water is being discharged in aquifer again which causes damage to water resources.

According to the report, companies lack mechanism of water test. It added that the underground water level in Karachi decreased to 1,300 feet while rivers in Punjab are going dry and vegetables are being cultivated with contaminated water.

The chief justice said that fund for dams could be gathered in a year easily if a rupee per litter tax on 7 billion litres is imposed.

He said that mineral water companies will convert Pakistan into Ethiopia, adding that these companies are doing fraud with people. “The people should boycott these mineral water companies,” chief justice observed.

The chief justice made it clear that the mineral water companies had to pay amount on extraction of water. “Water costing billions of rupees has been theft by these mineral water companies,” said the chief justice.

Advocate Shahid Hamid representing a water company contended that they had not theft the water, adding that they had no fault if the government had not imposed the tax.

A meeting regarding mineral water will be held to examine the objections of companies and matters pertaining to tax. The bench directed advocate generals of four provinces, federal government and representative of mineral water companies to attend the meeting.

The chief justice expressed displeasure that the companies did not pay any heed and utilised water of billions of rupees.

Advocate Hamid said that they were ready to pay amount on extraction of water but payment could not be made on wasted water. He said that now the discharged water was not being thrown underground but it was being utilised for agricultural purposes.

Justice Faisal Arab, member of the bench, remarked that Canada was rich in water resources, still the amount on water is paid. Even if the water in Canada is free, it will not be finished for 5,000 years, remarked Justice Arab, adding that despite this, Canada has fixed rates on water usage.

The scientist informed the bench that companies waste three glass of water in the name of purifying one glass of water.

The chief justice said that the water quality of only Qarshi and Gourmet was acceptable, adding that no one will die of thirst if these companies are shut down.

Observing that this court had no sympathies with the companies, the chief justice directed them to improve the quality of water in seven days; otherwise they would be shut down.