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Setback for people’s movement, Madras HC permits Pepsi-Coke to use Thamirabarani water

Even as MNC giants Pepsi and Coca Cola face a boycott over their products in Tamil Nadu, the Madras High Court has lifted its stay restraining the companies from using the water of the Thamirabarani river.

The order comes as a setback for the people’s movement against the soft drink manufacturers and a relief for the companies even as the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court dismissed two PILs filed against the supply of Thamirabarani water to the Pepsi and Coca Cola.  

While rejecting the petitions, the bench comprising of Justices A Selvam and P Kalaiyarasan questioned the petitioners as to why they did not file cases against other industries, which were being supplied more water than the soft drink giants.  

“Why are you not attacking other industries? Why have you adopted a pick and choose method?” Justice Selvam asked the petitioner, The Hindu reported.

As reported by The News Minute in December, Pepsi and Coca Cola are not the only companies drawing water from the river. In fact, the government of Tamil Nadu is the biggest user of Thamirabarani water.

SIPCOT is allowed to extract 3 million gallons per day (which is about 136 lakh litres per day) according to a government order.

Apart from using a small amount for its own use, SIPCOT then distributes this water to several other companies – 27 in total.

The 27 companies are allotted a maximum quantity they can withdraw per day, which does not mean they draw all of it out.

For instance, according to SIPCOT, in 2015-16, Pepsi was allowed to draw out 15 lakh litres per day, but it drew out only 1.135 lakh litres per day. Coca Cola’s allotted limit was 18 lakh litres per day, but it withdrew only 3.05 lakh litres a day.

In 2015-16, the total water allotted to the 27 companies was about 49 lakh litres, of which only 17.4 lakh litres were used.

Details of the case

Pepsi and Coca Cola, in their counter affidavits, denied allegations that they were exploiting water from the Tamirabarani river, reported The Hindu.

In November, the Madras High Court had granted an interim stay restraining SIPCOT Industrial Growth Centre in Tirunelveli from supplying the water from the Thamirabarani to Pepsi and Coca Cola. This after two PILs were filed, one in 2015 by Appavu, an ex-MLA and another by DA Prabhakar in 2016.

The petitions stated that the river was a lifeline for Trunelveli and Thoothukudi, providing water for drinking and irrigation purposes for the two districts. One of the PILs stated that in 2016, the Tamil Nadu government allowed companies linked to PepsiCo to draw about 10 lakh litres of water every day at a cost of Rs 3.75 paise for producing soft drinks and packaged drinking water. In 2005, the Tamil Nadu government had granted companies linked to Coca-Cola permission to draw 9 lakh litres of water every day and later allowed to draw 18 lakh litres per day last year, according to the petitioner.

Appavu told The News Minute, “Other companies take water to aid production and other needs. But these companies buy the water at low rates, package and sell it back to the state’s people. How can we allow this when crops are failing without water and farmers dying?”

The petitioner has further claimed that he will be moving a higher court regarding the matter.

The village of Gangaikondan village in Tirunelveli had witnessed intense protests by farmers and political groups in 2015 demanding that Pepsi and Coca Cola not be allowed to draw water from the river.  

Source: The News Minute