HC rejects plea to stop supply of Tamirabarani water to Pepsi, Coke

CHENNAI: The Madras High Court Bench in Madurai on Thursday dismissed a couple of public interest litigation petitions filed against the supply of Tamirabarani river surface water to the industries set up by the co-packers of Pepsi and Coca Cola on 1,991.58 acres at the Industrial Growth Centre (IGC), established by the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT), at Gangaikondan in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.

A Division Bench of Justices A. Selvam and P. Kalaiyarasan also vacated an interim injunction granted by the court in November last, restraining the SIPCOT from supplying water to the two units.

The judges reserved the judgement on February 15 after questioning as to why the petitioners did not file cases against other industries too that were being supplied with more water than what was being supplied to the co-packers of the multinational cola giants. “Why are you not attacking other industries? Why have you adopted a pick and choose method?” Justice Selvam had asked.

In their counter affidavits, the co-packers of PepsiCo and Coca Cola denied allegations of exploitation of the Tamirabarani water by their industries.

The SIPCOT too had backed the claim, made by Prathishta Business Solutions and South India Bottling Company, by filing a counter affidavit in reply to a public interest litigation petition filed before the Bench against supply of the river water to the two companies by the SIPCOT at a “throwaway price.”

SIPCOT general manager P. Kumaravel Pandian said the government accorded the administrative sanction to the erstwhile Tamil Nadu Corporation for Industrial Infrastructure Development (TACID) on August 4, 1993 to acquire land in Perancheri and Gangaikondan Part-I villages for the establishment of the IGC.

A Government Order was also passed on May 14, 1998, permitting it to draw surface water at the rate of three million gallons a day (MGD) from the Tamirabarani and supply it to the industries established in the IGC. Subsequently, TACID was merged with the SIPCOT and the latter was at present drawing only 0.5 MGD from the river on an average, he claimed.

The South India Bottling Company was allotted 30.89 acres in the IGC on October 21, 2004 for setting up a soft drinks and packaged water plant. Though the SIPCOT had committed to supply 9 lakh litres of water a day, and a plea to raise it to 18 lakh litres was pending, the unit utilised only 2.63 lakh litres a day during 2016-17, he said.

Similarly, the Prathishta Business Solutions was allotted 36 acres in the IGC in February 2014 with a committed quantity of 15 lakh litres of water a day. However, the industry utilised only 3.41 lakh litres a day during 2016-17, which worked out to 22.37% of the committed quantity, Mr. Pandian said.

He also pointed out that the river water was supplied to the units at commercial rate of Rs. 37.50 for every thousand litres. The SIPCOT also stated that only 931.64 acres in the IGC was allotted so far to 58 industries, of whom only 27 alone were functioning at present. The others were yet to begin operations, he added.

Insofar as an industrial complex managed by the SIPCOT over an extent of 1,083 acres in Thoothukudi was concerned, though the government had authorised it to draw 4.70 MGD from the Tamirabarani, the corporation was drawing only 1.90 MGD for supply to 80 functional units, out of 95 that were allotted 850.07 acres over there.

The SIPCOT also denied the petitioner’s claim of the two co-packing units adversely affecting a spotted deer sanctuary at Gangaikondan. The sanctuary was situated at a distance of four km from the units, the corporation said, adding that it was supplying around 2,000 litres of water every day to the sanctuary free of cost since 2010.

In its counter affidavit, the Prathista Business Solutions, said it was utilising the unit at Gangaikondan only to bottle packaged drinking water and not for manufacture of soft drinks. It also stated that its daily consumption was less than 1% of the total water permitted to be drawn by the SIPCOT from the Tamirabarani for the industries at Gangaikondan and Thoothukudi.

The company had filed a petition urging the court to vacate the interim order.