PERUMATTY GRAMA PANCHAYAT Vs. STATE OF KERALA
LAWS(KER)-2003-12-4
HIGH COURT OF KERALA
Decided on December 16,2003

Perumatty Grama Panchayat Appellant
VERSUS
STATE OF KERALA Respondents

JUDGEMENT

- (1.) THE point that arises for consideration in this case in whether a Grama Panchayat can cancel the licence of a factory manufacturing non alcoholic beverages on the ground of excessive exploitation of ground water.
(2.) THE brief facts of the case are the following:- The petitioner is Perumatty Grama Panchayat. The 2nd respondent Company is running a factory at Moolathara in Perumatty Grama Panchayat. Its main products are soft drinks and bottled drinking water. The said factory was established after obtaining permission from the Panchayat. It started commercial production in March 2000 after obtaining licence from the petitioner Panchayat. The main raw material used in the manufacture of beverages is water. Substantial portion of the need for water is met by exploiting ground water through bore-wells. The people in the locality raised objection against the exploitation of ground water by the Company. Therefore, the Panchayat passed Ext. P1 resolution on 7.4.2003, deciding not to renew the licence of the factory. The translation of that resolution reads as follows: As the excessive exploitation of ground water by the Coca-Cola Company in Plachimada is causing acute drinking water scarcity in Perumatty Panchayat and nearby places, it is resolved in public interest, not to renew the licence of the said Company. It is also resolved to inform about this decision to the Honble Chief Minister of Kerala and the Honble Minister for Industries, Kerala. In the light of the said decision, Ext. P2 notice was issued by the Panchayat to the 2nd respondent Company on 9.4.2003, the translation of which reads as follows:- To The Human Resource Manager, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (Pvt.) Ltd., Plachimada, Kannimari, Perumatty Grama Panchayat, Chittoor Taluk, Palakkad District. Notice issued under S.240 of the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act, 1994 and the Rules, by the Special Grade Secretary of Perumatty Grama Panchayat. As ground water is excessively exploited for the use of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Bottling Plant run in Plachimada and as a result, acute drinking water scarcity is felt in Perumatty Grama Panchayat and nearby places, it was resolved by the Panchayat Committee on 7.4.2003, not to renew the licence of the said Company. Allegations have been raised that the excessive exploitation of ground water for the functioning of the said unit is causing drinking water scarcity and other severe environmental problems. In connection with this, political and mass organizations are holding agitations. The agitation by the Adivasis opposite to the gate of the Company is continuing for more than one year. Taking into account the above circumstances, to prevent the excessive use of ground water and also the consequential environmental problems, the Panchayat has taken this decision. So, if you have anything to say, why the licence of the Company should not be cancelled, the same may be informed in writing to the Panchayat Secretary within 15 days from the date of receipt of this notice. You are hereby informed that if you fail to show cause, it shall be presumed that you have nothing to state and further action will be taken in the matter. Any loss or damage on account of this would be entirely within your responsibility. Upon receipt of the said notice, the Company submitted Ext. P3 reply on 30.4.2003. In the said reply, it was pointed out that the factory is run with all necessary statutory clearances. The Panchayat can cancel its licence, if only any violation of the conditions of licence is found. The allegations of depletion of ground water and causing of environmental problems by the functioning of the unit were denied by the Company. Thereafter, after hearing the 2nd respondent, the Panchayat, by Resolution dated 12.5.2003, decided to cancel the licence of the Company. The translation of the said resolution reads as follows:- The Panchayat is satisfied that the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd. at Plachimada is doing excessive exploitation of water and as a result, the water sources in the wells and ponds in the nearby places have dried up, resulting in deterioration of quality of the limited water available, causing health/environmental problems and acute drinking water scarcity. This has given rise to serious concern among the public. The problem of drinking water scarcity and health/environmental problems are continuing as a reality. The Panchayat, being satisfied that the evidence submitted by the Company alongwith the explanation and at the time of hearing, is against facts and that the request of the Company authorities, not to cancel the licence and to renew it, cannot be considered, unanimously resolved not to renew the licence. In the light of the above resolution, the Secretary of the Panchayat issued Ext. P4 order dated 15.5.2003, cancelling the licence granted to the 2nd respondent and directing the Company to stop production with effect from 17.5.2003. The 2nd respondent challenged the said order before this Court and this Court directed the Company to invoke the statutory remedy available to it before the appropriate authority. It was also ordered therein that if the alternate remedy is invoked, status quo shall be maintained till the competent authority decides the matter. Pursuant to the said Judgment, the 2nd respondent moved the Government in appeal. Pending appeal, the implementation of Ext. P4 order was stayed. Ext. P5 is the appeal filed by the 2nd respondent before the Government. After hearing both sides, the Government disposed of that appeal by Ext. P6 order. The operative portion of the said order reads as follows:- In the above circumstances, Government hereby order that the Perumatty Grama Panchayat will constitute a team of experts from the departments of Ground Water and Public Health and the State Pollution Control Board to conduct a detailed investigation into the allegations levelled against the Company and its products. The Panchayat will take a decision based on this independent investigation as to whether the licence granted to the Company should be renewed or cancelled. The Panchayat will get the enquiry conducted by these agencies and come to a just and fair conclusion based on this enquiry within three months from the date of receipt of this order. All enquiries and investigations should be conducted with notice to the appellant Company. Till the Panchayat takes a final decision on the cancellation of the licence issued to the Company, the stay granted by Government on 12.6.2003 against the order of cancellation of licence by the Panchayat will continue in operation. Feeling aggrieved by Ext. P6, the Panchayat has filed this Writ Petition. The 2nd respondent Company has chosen not to challenge it. According to the Panchayat, it is the ultimate authority to decide on the matters covered by the impugned order. The protection and preservation of water sources are the exclusive domains of the Panchayat. When the Panchayat takes a decision based on relevant materials, the Government cannot interfere with it and dictate, how the Panchayat should act in the matter.
(3.) THE Government have filed a counter - affidavit supporting the impugned order. The 2nd respondent Company has also filed a very detailed counter - affidavit supporting Ext. P6.;


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