Plachimada:Coca-Cola to shut the tap on Kerala operations

Global soft drinks giant Coco-Cola on Thursday submitted before the Supreme Court that it would not resume operations in its controversial plant in Palakkad district’s Plachimada, thus ending a 12-yearlong legal battle with local people. After recording the submission, a Supreme Court Bench rendered invalid a litigation moved by the Kerala Government, Perumatty panchayat, and the State Pollution Control Board, challenging a High Court Division Bench’s ruling in favor of the renewal of the company’s license.

The apex court, however, did not pass any judgment on the question of law whether local selfgoverning bodies should be empowered with the authority to suspend the license of a factory within their jurisdiction if it has violated environmental norms.

The bench pointed out that such points of law could be put forward during hearing of similar cases in the future. Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, the Indian subsidiary of the multinational, opened its plant in Plachimada in Chittur taluk in 2000. Two years later, local people launched an agitation demanding the permanent closure of the bottling plant after they noticed depletion and pollution of water in groundwater resources. Amid raging protests, the Perumatty grama panchayat passed a resolution on April 7, 2003, and decided not to renew the company’s license.

The company, however, was not ready to budge. What ensued was a 12-year-long bitter legal battle. The panchayat administration approached the High Court after the State government challenged its closure notice served on the company unit. Holding that since water was a national asset, both the panchayat and the state government had the responsibility to preserve it, the single bench termed the company’s operations illegal.

The court also directed the authorities concerned that license should be renewed only after evolving strict norms.

The High Court Division Bench which took up the petition challenging the single bench order, observed that the ruling had no legal sanctity and ordered that if the company possessed the certificates specified under the Factories Act and clearance from the Pollution Control Board, the right to obtain the license could not be denied. It was then that the panchayat, state government and the Pollution Board, moved the Supreme Court, questioning the Division Bench order.

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