Coke Allowed to Draw Groundwater, With Limits
Thiruvananthapuram, April 7: The high court here has allowed the Coca-Cola
plant in Kerala, closed for the past two years, to draw groundwater
for daily use on the condition that it meets the residents' water
"There is no harm in drawing 500,000 litres of groundwater daily in
normal rainfall conditions," a division bench observed today, based
on a report of the Centre for Water Research Development and Management.
The company, however, would have to ensure regular water supply and
prepare an action plan by June 30 to cover villagers' social security
The Left-led local village council at Perumatty in the northern Palakkad
district had cancelled the plant's licence. It said the plant, one
of the largest among the 27 that Coca-Cola operates in India, was
depleting the water table in the perennially parched area, thus drying
up wells, ponds, and canals.
Later, the state imposed a temporary bar on drawing water during pre-monsoon
The Anti-Coca-Cola Action Committee reacted sharply to the court verdict.
The organisation's patron, V. Venugopal, said: "We will block vehicles
bringing water from outside the factory premises. The state government
and the local village council should appeal against the verdict."
Coke officials were not immediately available for comment but sources
said the verdict was a major relief as it enabled the plant to meet
half the average daily requirement from its own sources. Supplies
from outside would balance the deficit.
The company had all along argued that the village council was targeting
it while several other units in the region that used groundwater were
getting their licences renewed.
The Coca-Cola Employment Protection Committee, formed by some 300
redundant workers and their families, was campaigning for the plant's
Coke currently brings supplies from Bangalore to service customers
in Kerala. The company would make a huge saving on transportation
once local production starts, sources said.
The unit has passed through a chequered course ever since the previous
CPM-led government invited Coke to set up shop in Palakkad.
Production started in March 2000 but local tribals questioned the
plant's location. Their leader, C.K. Janu, inaugurated an anti-Coke
movement on April 22, 2002.
The campaign caught wide attention with activists such as Medha Patkar
and Vandana Siva lending support and BBC Radio airing a report on
a research that found toxic sludge in the drinking water.
The Joint Parliamentary Committee that examined the issue reported
that the commercial use of groundwater must be adequately restricted.
On February 17, 2004, the Kerala government decided to stop the plant
from drawing water for commercial purposes.
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