High Court Directs Coca-Cola to Stop Using Groundwater
The Hindu
December 16, 2003

KOCHI Dec. 16. The Kerala High Court today directed Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited to find out alternative sources of water for its bottling plant at Plachimada in Palakkad in a month.

Justice K. Balakrishnan Nair also directed the Perumatty grama panchayat not to interfere with the functioning of the company if it used the water drawn from other sources. Besides, the company should only be allowed to use the quantity of water equivalent to that used by a landowner with 34 acres of land. The panchayat and the State Government had been directed to ensure that the company did not extract any excess ground water after one month from today. They should also ensure that all the borewells were closed after one month.

The court ordered that the panchayat with the assistance of the Ground Water Department should find out the quantity of water a landowner with 34 acres had been using for his/her domestic and agricultural purposes. The arrangement for drawing water and its monitoring should be done in a transparent manner.

These directives were issued while disposing of a writ petition filed by the Perumatty grama panchayat against a government order staying the cancellation of licence of the company. The court also modified the panchayat and government orders. The Government had also directed the panchayat to constitute an expert team consisting of representatives of the Ground Water Department, the Pollution Control Board and the Public Health Department to go into the allegations against the company. The licence was cancelled by the panchayat on May 15, 2003 on the ground of over-exploitation of ground water. The panchayat had contended that the Government had no power to pass such an order. The judge held that the ground water belonged to the people and the Government had no right to allow a private party to extract such a huge quantity of ground water which was "a property held by it in trust''. If the company were allowed to draw such quantity of water, then similar claims of other landowners would have to be allowed. It would result in drying up the ground water.

The Coca-Cola company said it would be filing appeal against the order of the single judge. It pointed out that the order was one of the orders passed in multiple proceedings arising out of various show-cause notices issued by the Perumatty grama panchayat on the subject. The Division Bench of the High Court is also for December 18.

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