Kerala water gift for cola

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By JOHN MARY in Thiruvananthapuram
  • Published 7.04.05

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 needs.

?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 and healthcare.

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 months.

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 reopening.

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.