Plachimada Case Study

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International Environmental Law Research Centre

LEGAL IMPLICATIONS OF PLACHIMADA
A CASE STUDY

Sujith Koonan

IELRC WORKING PAPER
2007 - 05

This paper can be downloaded in PDF format from IELRC’s website at http://www.ielrc.org/content/w0705.pdf

International Environmental Law Research Centre International Environment House Chemin de Balexert 7, 1219 Châtelaine Geneva, Switzerland info@ielrc.org www.ielrc.org

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION I. II. THE BACKGROUND LEGAL AND INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK A. B. C. III. Analysis of Pollution Control Laws Institutions: Powers and Failures The Role of the Panchayat

1 1 2 2 4 6 7 7 7 8 8 9 9 11 12 12 14 14 15 17

PLACHIMADA IN THE KERALA HIGH COURT A. B. Background of the Case Principles in the Case 1. Public Trust Doctrine 2. Common Law Jurisprudence on Ground Water Case Law Analysis 1. Single Bench Decision 2. Division Bench Decision

C.

IV.

THE FUTURE: AN ANALYSIS A. B. Plachimada in the Supreme Court: The Future The Ground Water Act 1. Introducing the Act 2. Critical Analysis of the Act

V.

CONCLUSION

INTRODUCTION
Plachimada is often cited as a prime example of corporate aggression over natural resources and the consequent denial of the rights of the people. It has also been portrayed as the fight against a multi national corporation by a small section of the local population in order to protect basic human rights, such as the right to drinking water and the right to livelihood. What happened in Plachimada is often raised in discussions about the state’s actual record (as opposed to the position that the state ought to take) in the ‘fight for basic human rights.’ Plachimada, a small village in Kerala, became the centre of controversy after The Coca Cola Company set up a bottling plant there. The village became more famous (or infamous) after incidents of pollution and over extraction of groundwater by the Company, were reported by various organisations and the popular media. Those who campaigned against Coca Cola’s presence in Plachimada allege that the over-exploitation of groundwater by the company had caused the deterioration of groundwater, both in quality and quantity. These are very serious issues in a place like Plachimada where people depend extensively upon groundwater for domestic and agricultural purposes. In this context, the Plachimada controversy raises several legal questions. Briefly, the case involves the question of right to life, the right to livelihood and the emerging jurisprudence of environmental law. But a micro level analysis reveals that the relevant legal framework is rendered complex due to the co-existence of some statutes, constitutional provisions and principles. The first part of the paper briefly describes the geography and the socio-economic background of Plachimada. The second part analyses the legal and institutional framework applicable to the case. This part also examines how the government approached the case, which has already been presented before the Kerala High Court. The third part is an analysis of the case law. The Kerala government enacted the Kerala Ground Water (Control and Regulation) Act in 2002 but the Act was notified only in 2003. By this time the matter had already come before the Kerala High Court and therefore, this Act has not been applied by the High Court and is not applicable to the case now pending before the Supreme Court of India. Hence, in anticipation of the future of the case, the fourth part examines the arguments presented before the Supreme Court. Since the Kerala Ground water (Control and Regulation) Act is the statutory framework to prevent and control the situations like Plachimada in the future, an analysis of the Act is also included in the fourth part.

I.

THE BACKGROUND

Palakkad district in Kerala State where the Coca Cola plant is situated, is an important agricultural region for the state and is popularly known as the ‘rice bowl of Kerala’. The whole area...
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