Legal implications of Plachimada, Kerala, that faces public health issues and agricultural deterioration by Coca Cola plant- a case study (2007)

The case study reveals failure of state in efficient implementation of pollution control laws and absence of specific and comprehensive groundwater laws in the state

This paper published by the International Environmental Law Research Centre briefly describes the geography and the socio-economic background of Plachimada, and analyses the legal and institutional framework applicable to the case, examines how the government approached the case, which had already been presented before the Kerala High Court, and finally makes an analysis of the case law.

The deterioration of groundwater in quality and quantity and the consequential public health problems and the destruction of the agricultural economy are the main problems identified in Plachimada  due to the activity of the Coca Cola company. The availability of good quality water for drinking purposes and agriculture has been affected dangerously due to the activity of the company. Apart from that, the company had also polluted the agricultural lands by depositing the hazardous wastes.

The paper argues that all these point to the gross violation of the basic human rights, that is, the right to life, right to livelihood and the violation of the pollution control laws. The case study exposes the failure of the state, which is supposed to be the protector of the human rights, in its duty. An examination of all these issues exposes several lacunae in the legal regime such as the absence of a specific and comprehensive groundwater laws, an efficient implementation of the pollution control laws or any desire in the judiciary to appreciate the legal transformation of decentralisation of power.

The case study reveals the necessity of a comprehensive groundwater statutory regime, which recognises the human rights implications of the uncontrolled use of groundwater and de-links the groundwater right from the land ownership rights. The absence of such a legal regime has helped the Company to win the legal battle in the Kerala High Court. The division bench of the Kerala High Court acknowledged the right of the landowner over the groundwater by highlighting the absence of any statutes to the contrary.

The results of the case study suggest the immediate enactment of groundwater legislations by all the states in India. The legislation should give importance to the notion of human rights and the principles of environmental law such as the precautionary principle, Polluter Pays Principle, and conservation philosophy.

The victims of Plachimada have to wait for the Supreme Court decision for legal remedies. At the same time the case study suggests the strengthening of the legal framework and the efficient implementation of the laws as the viable methods to regulate the groundwater use in the future and to avoid ‘another Plachimada’.

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