Chennai

High Court against giving groundwater for free to bottling units

Packaged drinking water units across the State are on an indefinite strike from Thursday, demanding that the State government provide no-objection certificates to operate and relax norms for groundwater drawal based on the zones on Sunday.Photo: R. Ragu / The Hindu

Packaged drinking water units across the State are on an indefinite strike from Thursday, demanding that the State government provide no-objection certificates to operate and relax norms for groundwater drawal based on the zones on Sunday.Photo: R. Ragu / The Hindu   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu

Government told to levy appropriate charges depending upon quantity drawn

The Madras High Court on Tuesday expressed surprise over the State government not collecting any money from drinking water packaging units for the groundwater drawn by them and suggested that the authorities concerned should give serious thought to levying appropriate charges, depending upon the quantity drawn.

Justices Vineet Kothari and R. Suresh Kumar were taken aback when Advocate General Vijay Narayan informed them that groundwater was allowed to be extracted for free. When the drinking water packaging units were being run for commercial gains, why should the State provide water free of charge to such units, the judges wondered.

The senior judge on the Bench said that the government did not let any mineral be exploited by private parties without payment of charges to the exchequer. Since everything under the ground belonged to the State, officials should not allow extraction of groundwater without claiming compensation, he added.

He also said that the requirement of installing water meters at groundwater extraction sites would make sense only if the government used the readings to levy appropriate charges and not just to keep a tab on the quantity of water extracted, depending upon the classification of areas into critical, semi-critical and so on.

The observations were made during the hearing of a public interest litigation petition in which the court ordered closure of all unauthorised drinking water packaging units across the State. Appearing on behalf of some of the closed units, senior counsel G. Masilamani and P.S. Raman said that the people were the ultimate sufferers due to the abrupt closure of units.

Impressing upon the need for government authorities to take a quick decision on pending applications for renewal of licences and issuance of no objection certificates (NOC), the senior counsel said that the State was unable to provide potable drinking water to all and hence that void was being filled by private drinking water packaging units.

Earlier, Special Government Pleader J. Pothiraj filed a compliance report stating that out of 261 recognised units in the State, 116 had applied for renewal of licence and NOCs for 132 had been cancelled for various violations. The remaining 13 units were closed down. Even among the 132 units whose NOCs had been cancelled, the extraction points of 124 units had been sealed. Apart from these 261 units, government officials had identified 552 illegal units and sealed all of them, the report read.

On his part, advocate N. Ramesh, representing Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CWSSB), told the court that enactment of a new Groundwater (Development and Management) Act was under the government’s consideration. Till then, CMWSSB had decided not to issue any new NOC or licence for extraction of groundwater for commercial purposes in Chennai. The board would, however, continue to issue transport permits for water extracted from the outskirts after obtaining due licence from the Revenue Divisional Officers concerned, to be transported to the packaging units situated in the city, he said.

After hearing all of them, the Division Bench said that it would pass a comprehensive interim order in the case on Wednesday and keep the PIL petition pending for continuous monitoring.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 3:43:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/high-court-against-giving-groundwater-for-free-to-bottling-units/article30976750.ece

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