Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Kola Konflict - Round 1

Last Thursday... a "big" news caught my eye on the front page of the Times of India...
"KERALA CANS COKE, PEPSI...." (click and read the article)

The article was kind of glorifying the Kerala Chief Minister Mr. V.S.Achuthanandan for taking the bold step and banning the "harmful" drinks that include the prominent brands sold by the two companies, i.e. — Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Mirinda, Mountain Dew, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Blue, Fanta, Limca, Sprite, Thums Up, and 7-up, citing the fact that they contain excess pesticides in them.

I personally found this very amusing and funny though the implications are too bulging to be ignored. As every other coin, this also has two sides to it...

1. It all started with the people of "Plachimada" (a small village in Kerala) raising a hue and cry over the fact that, since the Coca Cola factory was established there in 2000, the ground water levels have dropped dramatically causing a crisis for the aboriginal people who live in the surroundings. The agitation forced the locally elected government, the Permatty Panchayat, to not renew the license. In a resolution passed on 7Apr 2003, the Panchayat stated:

“As the excessive exploitation of ground water by the Coca Cola Company in Plachimada is causing acute drinking water scarcity in Perumatty Panchayat and nearby places, it is resolved in public interest not to renew the licence of the said company.”

The issue went to the Kerala High Court. Two issues were at stake.
  • 1. The issue of democracy and the rights of the Panchayat.
  • 2. The issue of excessive exploitation of water by Coca Cola.
According to the Panchayat, it is the ultimate authority to decide on the matters related to water resources. In a judgment given on December 16, 2003, a Division bench of the Kerala High Court, Hon. Justice Balakrishna Nair ruled that Coca Cola did not have unfettered rights to withdraw water. The judge ruled that “the extraction of ground water, even at the admitted amounts of the 2nd respondent is illegal. It has no legal right to extract this much of natural wealth.”

The plant was thus shut down under the combination of people’s action, the panchayat decisions, and the court decision.

However, on 7th April 2005, Hon’ble Justice K Ramachandran and Hon’ble Justice Balachandran of Kerala High Court, overruled the order of 16.12.03. They ruled:

“We have to assume that a person has the right to extract water from his property. Maintenance of traditional drinking water resources, could not have been envisaged as preventing an owner of a well from extracting water therefrom, as he wishes. The Panchayat had no ownership about such private water source in effect denying the proprietary rights of the occupier and the proposition of law laid down by the learned judge is too wide, for unqualified acceptance.”

End of Round 1....


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