Pepsi, Coca-Cola get relief from Madras High Court over water usage in Tamil Nadu

S V Krishnamachari
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Pepsico and Coca Cola had reasons to cheer after a court on Thursday lifted a fourth-month ban on supply of water to their units in Tamil Nadu, a Rs 1,400-crore market for the two American beverages companies. The reprieve came a day after retailers of the two firms boycotted their soft drinks in favour of home-grown ones, sparking support and criticism alike.

Justices A Selvam and P Kalaiyarasan of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Thursday not only lifted the ban imposed by the Tirunelveli district collector in November 2016, but also dismissed a clutch of public interest litigations (PILs) seeking to restrain the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT) from supplying water to the cola units.

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The petitioners were chided for being selective in seeking the ban. "Why are you not attacking other industries? Why have you adopted a pick and choose method?" Justice Selvam had asked while reserving judgment in the case on February 15, according to The Hindu.

The two companies are facing a boycott from retailers in Tamil Nadu who have decided to shun their aerated drinks, citing health reasons and excessive use of water.

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The two co-packers of Pepsico India and Coca Cola — Prathishta Business Solutions and South India Bottling Company — in their counter-affidavits in the case, had denied getting water at a throwaway price by the SIPCOT at its industrial cluster in Tirunelveli.

The events coincide with the week-long visit of PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi to India from Tuesday.

The Indian Beverage Association (IBA), a body that represents the non-alcoholic beverage industry, has voiced concern at the boycott call given by Tamil Nadu traders. "This call is against the proven fundamentals of robust economic growth, and against the clarion call of Making in India. The boycott call also violates the rights of the consumer to exercise choice," it said.

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