Double disregard

Pakistan court supports environment against Nestle, US troops

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- in a remarkable verdict, the Sindh High Court recently stopped multinational company Nestle from setting up a water extracting plant in Karachi's Gadap area for manufacturing bottled water for the us troops in Afghanistan. The plant would have led to depletion of the aquifer in the dry region, and caused acute water shortage for farmers as well as the "Education City" constructed there. Nestle had proposed an initial investment of us $10 million "followed by other products in future" and had got huge orders from a United Arab Emirates-based firm for exporting bottled water to us forces in Kandhar.

On November 30, 2004, the court ruled that Nestle "be restrained from raising any construction with a view to set-up and operate a bottled-water factory in Deh Chuhar area of Karachi, known as the 'Education City', as the same is contrary to educational and health use, for which such land can be used." Nestle Milkpak Ltd, a subsidiary of multinational Nestle, wanted to extract 306 million litres of water annually at the proposed 8.1-hectare plant. Nestle enjoys a major share in Pakistan's bottled water industry and sells it under the brand name ' ava'. It is also the country's largest milk packager, selling it under the brand name 'Milkpak'.

It was feared that the plant would have caused water shortage in the Education City, in which land has been allotted to some of Pakistan's important institutions like the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (siut), The Aga Khan Hospital and Medical College Foundation, The Aga Khan University and Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology. Local farmers, who use tubewell water for cultivation, would also have been in trouble due to depletion in ground water level. siut, along with other stakeholders, challenged Nestle in the court of law, seeking permanent injunction against the installation of the plant.

Counsel for the appellants stated that the amount of extraction proposed by the company was not sustainable, particularly because the area receives less than five inches annual rainfall. Of this, 70 per cent is lost in evaporation and transpiration and 15 per cent in run off, permitting only 15 per cent recharge. He also argued that Nestle had not fulfilled the legal requirements of submitting an environmental impact assessment (eia) of its proposal to the country's Environmental Protection Agency and obtaining its permission. He said the letter submitted by Nestle regarding the eia was not on the company's letterhead and its signatory was not identified as a Nestle employee. The counsel also argued that the proposed plant would violate Islamic principles regarding respect for the environment and preservation of natural resources. Under Islamic law, shared water is a common property and no one is permitted to use it in a way that excludes others from it, he said.

Jean-Lue Bonjour, senior hydrologist for Paris-based Nestle Waters, appeared before the court as an expert on behalf of Nestle and submitted a counter affidavit that claimed that the water in the region was not fit for drinking in its natural state and Nestle would purify it. But his submissions failed to impress the court.

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