Kerala launched Hilly Aqua, the public sector bottled drinking water brand under the Kerala Irrigation Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (KIIDC), a wholly owned company of the State government, in 2015. Seven years later, the sole water bottling project in Kerala that uses surface water collected from reservoirs is yet to find its feet in the highly competitive market, despite selling a 1 kg bottle for ₹15.
The brand has not only been registering loss since its inception, but it has also become a safe place for retired officials from the Irrigation department and other departments to get plum posts, although the re-employment is on contract. According to sources, around 110 officials were posted on contract in the KIIDC and among them, 23 senior officials are pensioners from various departments. Of the three senior administrative postings in the headquarters of Hilly Aqua, two were made from retired pensioners.
Though technical postings are expected to benefit the company, the non-technical administrative postings are a liability, said sources. The brand has been registering a monthly revenue of ₹35 lakh-₹40 lakh in the peak season, while the total expense for running the brand is higher than the revenue. Despite registering losses in the previous years, the brand is still a profit-making enterprise in the audit books of the State. There is no separate account for Hilly Aqua. The revenue and expense of the brand is taken along with the account of the KIIDC.
Just 50% of capacity
Since the KIIDC has been fetching relatively good centage charges from various KIIFB (Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board)-funded infrastructure projects, the loss incurred from the brand is not reflected in the balance sheet of the KIIDC. Further, a good number of dealers appointed for the distribution of the Hilly Aqua were close associates of the retired top officials. The brand could utilise only less than 50% of the installed capacity of two plants, Thodupuzha and Aruvikkara, said sources.
‘New plant in Kozhikode’
S. Thilakan, Chief Executive Officer, KIIDC, told The Hindu, “It’s true that the brand is yet to make profit. However, we have plans to enhance the productivity of existing plants along with setting up a new plant at Peruvannamuzhi in Kozhikode as part of exploring the north Kerala market. Further, the company will soon set up direct outlets across the State as part of increasing its market presence,” said Mr. Thilakan.