HC orders crackdown on packaged water units

The Madras High Court on Wednesday directed the State government to crack down on all illegal packaged drinking water units across the State. It wanted criminal cases to be booked against those who were tapping groundwater and exploiting it commercially without obtaining no objection certificates (NoCs) from the officials concerned.

Justices Vineet Kothari and M.S. Ramesh also directed the government to take a policy decision, within four weeks, on levying appropriate charges on such commercial units for the extraction of groundwater. They directed Special Government Pleader (SGP) J. Pothiraj to ascertain the government’s decision in this regard by November 19.

Earlier, the Bench recorded the SGP’s statement that the survey of groundwater level across the State was being taken once in three years and that those areas were classified as safe, semi-critical, critical and over-exploited on the basis of their groundwater level. NoCs were issued on the basis of such classifications. Since the last survey was done in 2017, the government authorities had begun a resurvey this year and had already completed assessing the over-exploited areas. The resurvey of safe, semi-critical and critical areas would be completed by March 2021, and thereafter NoCs would be issued, the SGP said.

The submission was made when the counsel, representing some packaged drinking water units, complained that the denial of NoCs on the basis of the 2017 survey was not right since many areas that were classified as critical then would now fall under semi-critical category due to copious rain and the consequent increase in the groundwater table.

Though the counsel also claimed that the business carried out by packaged drinking water units could not be treated as illegal since they were only assisting the government in fulfilling drinking water requirements of the citizens, the judges refused to buy such an argument and held that illegal units could not be allowed to run.

COVID-19 threat

The court also recalled an order passed by it in March, when the threat of COVID-19 was at its peak, permitting certain units without NOCs to function since there should not be a sudden dearth for water during the pandemic. Now the situation had improved and there was no necessity to show any such indulgence, it said.

In his submissions, the SGP informed the court that originally 1,086 illegal packaged drinking water units were identified across the State and of them, 396 were found to be in critical and over-exploited areas. The government closed down all the illegal units in critical and over-exploited areas and invited applications for NOCs from the others.

Out of the remaining 690 units, 510 were granted NOCs on the basis of a condition imposed by the court that those units should supply 15% of the water extracted by them to the district administration concerned so that the water could be provided free of cost to the people who could not afford to pay for safe drinking water.

However, as many as 367 units did not comply with the court-imposed condition and failed to supply 15% of water to the district administration, the SGP told the court. He also undertook to submit a list of those units during the next hearing of the case.

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 9:27:35 AM |

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