Coca-Cola, Pepsi Bottlers Fined in India
Coca-Cola Bottler Fined $2 Million, PepsiCo Bottler $1.3 Million for Environmental Damages in India
For Immediate Release
New Delhi (March 4, 2022): Coca-Cola's Indian bottler, Moon Beverages, has been fined US$ 2 million by the country's highest green court for causing environmental damages at two of its bottling plants in India.
PepsiCo's bottler, Varun Beverages, has also been found guilty of damaging the environment and fined US$ 1.3 million by the National Green Tribunal.
The 246 page judgment, released last Friday, faulted three bottling facilities of having violated environmental laws by operating without the required "No Objection Certificate" (NOC) to withdraw ground water which is issued by the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA).
Furthermore, the National Green Tribunal found both companies to have violated the terms of its license by not fulfilling its obligations to recharge ground water - a condition of the last valid license that both the companies had.
The Tribunal wrote that the companies "are responsible for illegal extraction of ground water at least after expiry of NOCs, issued to them by CGWA. They continued to extract ground water without any authority. Further, they are also liable to pay environmental compensation for causing loss to environment by failing to comply the most crucial condition of NOCs, i.e., recharge of water."
"Having committed the said default, they are liable to pay environmental compensation for the said cause/loss, besides other legal action civil, criminal as the case may be. Thus, PPs shall pay environmental compensation for abstraction of ground water after expiry of NOCs and failing to recharge ground water as per the condition of NOCs", wrote the Tribunal, with PPs referring to the Coca-Cola and PepsiCo bottlers.
Section 15 of the Environment Protection Act 1986 "provides for environmental compensation in case of illegal abstraction of ground water. Extraction of ground water for commercial use by industries, infrastructure units and mining projects without a valid NOC from appropriate authority shall be considered illegal and such entities shall be liable to pay environmental compensation for the quantum of ground water so extracted. Moreover, under Section 16, stricter provisions of penalty for non-compliance of NOC conditions have also been incorporated in the revised guidelines," said the Tribunal.
Although both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo tout their supposedly exemplary water conservation achievements around the world, with both companies claiming to have met fantastic (and mostly impossible) water conservation targets, the Indian High Court found that PepsiCo only recharged 4% of the water it was required to (and had agreed to) as a condition of their license. The Coca-Cola bottler did not even bother to offer any water recharge numbers to the court, even though it was invited to do so.
The India Resource Center has scrutinized the preposterous claims on water conservation made by both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo for over a decade, and found them to be designed primarily for public relations to deflect criticism of its water management practices than actually making any concrete changes on the ground.
In a number of meetings with and letters to Indian regulators, the India Resource Center has also pointed to the ineffectiveness of mandating water recharge by companies (as a part of their license to operate) in the absence of monitoring mechanisms.
The offending Coca-Cola bottling plants are located in Greater Noida and Sahibabad, and the PepsiCo plant in Greater Noida - all in the state of Uttar Pradesh and in the suburbs of New Delhi - supplying one of the largest markets in India for both the companies.
The Central Ground Water Authority - the central government's regulatory agency in India - has also told the court that it will no longer provide a "No Objection Certificate" to the bottling plants because they are located in water stressed areas, known as either over-exploited, critical or semi-critical - depending on the state of the ground water resource.
Although the National Green Tribunal found Coca-Cola and PepsiCo bottlers guilty of violating Indian laws and penalized them, the court had much harsher words for the government regulator, the Central Ground Water Authority, stating that, "CGWA for the reasons best known to it acted wholly illegally", and pointed to numerous deficiencies in the Authority's operations. It also called many of the regulations by the Authority to conserve ground water as "illusory".
The Tribunal also ruled, importantly, that the Central Ground Water Authority had a mandate to regulate ground water across all states in India - the Authority had claimed to only have jurisdiction over states which did not have their own groundwater management legislation.
Coca- Cola has been the target of community-led campaigns in India for causing water shortages and pollution for over a decade. A number of Coca-Cola bottling plants, including in Plachimada (Kerala), Kala Dera (Rajasthan), and Mehdiganj (Uttar Pradesh) have been shut down as a result. Other proposed bottling plants have also been shelved as a result of proactive protests.
"The fines and scrutiny by the National Green Tribunal on Coca-Cola and PepsiCo's continued violation of environmental laws in India are welcome. However, the monetary fines are too little for the global giants to have any deterrent effect. They will continue to pay such fines to pollute and degrade groundwater. For them, it is essentially a pay to pollute regime," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization that has been central to the successful campaigns to hold Coca-Cola accountable for water abuses in India.
March 4, 2022
Amit Srivastava +1 415 336 7584 (US) +91 98103 46161 (India)
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