Government can enforce its order on Cola plant: court

KOCHI, FEB. 26. A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court today made it clear that the Government could enforce its order prohibiting the Coca-Cola plant at Plachimada in Palakkad district from drawing groundwater from its wells.

The Bench, comprising Justice Cyriac Joseph and Justice K. Padmanabhan Nair, while extending its earlier interim order by two weeks, observed that the interim order would "not stand in the way" of the Government enforcing its directive banning the drawing of groundwater by the company. The interim order had directed that status quo be maintained with respect to drawing of groundwater by the company.

The court also made it clear that the order was passed without prejudice to the right of the company to challenge the government directive in appropriate proceedings.

The Bench directed the amicus curia, K.P. Sankaran, to ask the convener of the expert committee constituted by the High Court whether there was any "impediment" in its investigation due to the new Government order. The court had appointed E.J. James, Director of the Kozhikode-based Centre for Water Resource Development and Management (CWRDM), as convener and coordinator of the committee to probe the allegations levelled against the company.

When the appeal filed by the company was taken up today, counsel pointed out that it had been singled out by the ban order. Though the entire district had been declared drought-hit, the ban on drawing of groundwater had been imposed only on the Cola company. The company had been made a scapegoat for the district receiving less rainfall. There was no evidence of the company having caused depletion of groundwater. Besides, no action had been taken by any authority against other industries functioning in the district as well as tubewell owners, particularly in Chittur taluk.

During the hearing, the Bench asked the Additional Advocate-General, Rajan Joseph, why the Government was adopting different yardstick towards other factories. He then replied that the ban order was passed on the basis of the report sent by the Collector. The case was posted to March 10 for further hearing.