ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court Friday took cognizant of selling bottled water extracted from the ground without any charges and its fitness for human consumption.

Taking the suo motu, the top court has issued the notices to Attorney General for Pakistan, Advocate Generals of provinces and Islamabad, Chief Secretaries of provinces, Islamabad’s Chief Commissioner, Director General Punjab Food Authority and Managing Director Water and Sanitation Agency.

“Let a notice be issued to all four provincial governments and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), particularly the chief secretaries and the commissioner, ICT to explain whether the companies selling bottled water consisting of water from the ground extracted through tube-wells are charged any fee, cess or tax.

They shall confirm if this natural resource is being allowed to be used for commercial purposes free of charge,” the notice stated.

On the issue, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar remarked that water was precious and mineral water companies were acquiring water free of cost after installing turbines and then selling it at exorbitant prices. 

He further remarked that the court would take all possible measures to preserve water.

He was heading a three-judge bench comprising Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Ijazul Ahsan which on Friday heard another suo motu case regarding drying up of pond at Katas Raj temple and utilisation of water resources by cement factories for commercial purpose.

The top court observed tremendous improvement by Bestway Cement and D.G Khan Cement, whose units are installed near Katas Raj Temple, to control the environmental hazards.

The top court, however, directed the Punjab Anti-Corruption Department to inquire whether there was any lapse or nepotism shown by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in allowing the factories to install their units.

However, the bench ruled that Terms of References for inquiry shall be approved by court.

At least 12 persons had served on the post of director generals of EPA from 2004 till date and allegedly permitted the cement factories’ owners to use water for commercial purpose.

The top court also directed the Secretary Environment Punjab to survey all the factories and ensure that no air pollution should be caused due to cement factories. The top court has further directed for determination of rates and fee charges for utilisation of water and such determination shall be done keeping in view the nature of area and other factors.

The top court further ruled that the reasons shall also be submitted before the court in case of allowing utilisation of water with fee charges different to other factories. 

During the hearing, when chief justice asked regarding alternate source of water for cement factories and rates, Secretary Local Government Punjab informed the bench that the rates had been fixed to the extent of Bestway Cement and D.G. Khan Cement factories.

But chief justice expressed displeasure as to why the rates of water utilisation had not been fixed for other factories.

Secretary informed the bench and stated that formula for deciding the rate fixation had been determined. He added that the rates were being fixed per cubic feet.

The Chief Justice remarked that the owners of those factories who were not cooperating will be taken to task.

The CJ said that all other factories should also take steps for controlling environmental pollution as Bestway Cement took.  

During the hearing, the CJ also asked about the DGs EPA who issued permission for usage of water from Katas Raj Temple.

When the bench expressed the intention of their inquiry from National Accountability Bureau (NAB) or Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the Punjab Law Officer Barrister Qasim Chohan informed the bench that provincial anti-corruption department could also probe the matter.

He further assured the honesty by the Department’s officers. Accordingly, the CJ accepted the request and handed over the matter to Anti-Corruption Department. Meanwhile, in a separate case on the water shortage in the country, the top court sought recommendations of experts regarding water conservation.