The Madras High Court on Thursday allowed Coca Cola and Pepsi to draw water from a river in Tamil Nadu for their bottling plants but the lifting of the ban triggered protests by locals who stood knee-deep in the river. In a relief for the Cola majors, the Madurai bench of the court gave them permission to draw water from the Thamirabarani river for their bottling plants in Tirunelveli district for manufacturing soft drinks besides packaged drinking water.
Dismissing a PIL filed by D A Prabakar, a consumer activist, and one Appavo, a Division Bench of Justice A Selvam and Justice P Kalaiarasan lifted the ban earlier imposed by the court on the firms for drawing water from the river. The court had given the interim injunction in November last year. The soft drinks companies sought a direction on lifting the ban on the ground that they were using only the surplus water.
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The PIL litigants submitted that the river flowing through Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts supported drinking water projects and irrigation in the two districts. It was contended that drawing of water for the bottling plants of these companies deprived farmers of their livelihood, who were unable to take up farming activities.
The companies paid only 37.50 paise per 1,000 litres of water extracted and sold their beverages at a much higher cost, Prabakar, Secretary of Tirunelveli Consumer Protection Association, had submitted. The PWD had earlier submitted that there was sufficient water in the river and only surplus water was given to the companies.
Upset over the order, a large number of persons stood in knee-deep water in Thamirabharani river to vent their ire. They also protested against the “laxity” on the part of the authorities in handling the case.
The protesters shouted slogans against the state government for not taking necessary steps to prevent the Cola majors from drawing water from Thamirabharani, when the farmers in the state were facing acute water shortage for their farming activities.
The order came amid a call by the Traders Federation in Tamil Nadu to ban sales of Coca Cola and Pepsi that came into effect on Wednesday with its President A M Vikrama Raja declaring the aerated drinks as ‘toxic’ for consumption.
Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal opposed the call, saying it would lead to blackmarketing. Badal rued that “politics” was being played on the issue, and said such a ban was against the democratic values of the country. “I am not in favour of banning things because this gives rise to blackmarketing,” she told media when asked about the ban call and its impact on FDI inflows.
The minister, who is currently on a visit to Japan leading a delegation of industry body CII to woo investments in Indian food processing sector, said: “As a democratic country we have the right to eat what we want to eat.” She further said: “Someone who wants to drink Cola will find Cola despite all odds. This (the ban) will increase black marketing and corruption.”
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