Kerala panchayat wins face off with Coke

Kerala panchayat wins face off with Coke two recent directives of the Kerala High Court (hc) have further vindicated the Perumatty Grama Panchayat's stand in its face-off with the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited (hcbpl).

On December 16, Justice Balakrishnan Nair of the hc told hcbpl to close down the borewells at its Plachimada plant in Kerala's Palakkad district. The company has been given till January 16, 2004, to comply with the order and make alternative arrangements. The court has also asked the state groundwater department to conduct studies on the area's groundwater. The directives were issued in response to a writ petition filed by the Perumatty panchayat.

Though hcbpl promptly moved the hc against this order, a two-judge division bench rejected its appeal. The bench further directed that a committee be formed to investigate into the water situation in Plachimada and revert to the court on January 7, 2004. Crucially, the deadline to close down all borewells in the Plachimada Coke plant stands.

It may be recalled that the panchayat had earlier decided not to renew hcbpl's licence, citing depletion in groundwater levels due to its overexploitation by the company (see: "Calling the shots", Down To Earth, December 15, 2003). The village body also contended that the quality of water in the area's wells had deteriorated. Following this, the panchayat as well as hcbpl filed a series of writs in the hc.

While delivering the recent order, Justice Nair observed that groundwater is national wealth and belongs to the entire society. Noting that drinking water supply should get precedence over industrial use, he stated: "