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SC Stays NGT Order Imposing Penalty Of Over Rs 15 Crore On Coca-Cola's Bottling Unit Moon Beverages

The NGT, while holding that MBL had operated and abstracted groundwater in accordance with no-objection certificates issued to it by the Central Ground Water Authority and other authorities, proceeded to impose environmental compensation on the ground that the very issuance of the no-objection certificates by the authorities was invalid.

The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the operation of the judgment and order dated 25.02.2022 passed by the National Green Tribunal (“NGT”) imposing a penalty of approximately INR 15 crores upon the bottling unit of Coca Cola Company.

Moon Beverages Ltd. (“MBL”), one of the major manufacturing units of the Coca-Cola Company operating out of North India, was saddled with a liability to pay environment compensation to the tune of approximately INR 15 crore by the NGT. The NGT, while holding that MBL had operated and abstracted groundwater in accordance with no-objection certificates issued to it by the Central Ground Water Authority and other authorities, proceeded to impose environmental compensation on the ground that the very issuance of the no-objection certificates by the authorities was invalid. In other words, despite attributing the fault and violations upon the authorities, the NGT directed MBL to pay environmental compensation, absent any finding of environmental damage caused by MBL. Additionally,  the NGT, while admonishing the authorities for enacting certain guidelines for the regulation and management of groundwater extraction which, inter alia, legitimise and recognise the concept of deemed extension of a no-objection certificate granted to consumers of groundwater in exceptional circumstances (say, when the applications for the renewal of such  no-objection certificates has been kept pending due to the inaction of the authorities), however, has stopped short of striking down such guidelines. The Order of the NGT also imposed a penalty upon the bottlers of Pepsi Inc. – Varun Beverages.

MBL and Varun Beverages (“Appellants”) consequently challenged the said Order dated 25.02.2022 through separate Civil Appeals, and the Supreme Court was pleased to issue notice in both the Appeals same while staying the operation of the NGT Order. The Appellants submitted before the Supreme Court the urgent need to conclusively decide whether the concept of a deemed extension of a no-objection certificate could be said to be an anathema to the environmental jurisprudence under Indian laws.

Moon Beverages Limited was represented by Mr. Pinaki Misra, Sr. Advocate along with a team from Karanjawala & Co. Advocates led by Ms. Ruby Singh Ahuja, Senior Partner, along with Ms. Aakriti Vohra, Mr. Ashutosh P. Shukla, and Mr. Jappanpreet Hora.


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