A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on Tuesday directed the State government to immediately constitute an expert team to conduct an in-depth technical study on the exploitation of groundwater by Pepsi's plant at Pudussery in Palakkad district and submit a report.
The Bench comprising Acting Chief Justice C.N. Ramachandran Nair and Justice P.S. Gopinathan issued the directive while disposing of an appeal filed by the State government against a single judge's order, allowing the company to extract a maximum of 6 lakh litre per day for their business purposes.
Though Advocate General K.P. Dandapani sought modification of the interim order, the court felt that without a technical study report on the adverse effect of exploitation of water, it might not be correct to limit the amount of water extraction linked to production in the plant. In fact, such a study was required for final disposal of the writ petition.
The court directed a single judge to dispose of the writ petition pending before him within three weeks from the date of filing of the technical study report.
House panel's report
The single judge had issued the interim order on a writ petition filed by PepsiCo India Holdings Private Limited challenging the State government order restricting water extraction by the company to 2.34 lakh litres a day against the actual consumption of 5.5 to 6 lakh litres.
The government had imposed the restriction on the basis of a report of the subject committee of the Assembly. The single judge had also directed the State government to file a report as to the availability of the groundwater and “the optimum extraction limit” to be permitted at the plant after completing the study.
The single judge had noted that the State government had not commissioned an exhaustive study by an expert team before taking such a drastic decision.
Therefore, a further study was inevitable.
This was more so when no proof had been produced before the court about the water scarcity in the area, the single judge had observed.
The Bench also asked the State government to raise all the contentions before the single judge. When the appeal was taken up for hearing, the Advocate General submitted that a study would be arranged at the earliest in terms of the single judge's interim order.
According to the company, the findings of the Assembly committee were not backed by any study.
It also pointed out that the report of the groundwater department, which looked into the issue of the groundwater depletion, differed from the company-commissioned study.
The State government had contended that both the reports had been considered by the subject committee of the Assembly before recommending limiting of water extraction to 2.34 lakh litres a day.
The government had submitted that no further study was needed to arrive at a positive finding.
However, the company had argued that the groundwater department had not taken into account the rainfall received at the site and other aspects.
The company also pointed out that the report of the groundwater department had many inconsistencies.
Therefore, there was a need for an in-depth study on the water extraction, it contended.