Years ago, the then LDF Kerala Chief Minister EK Nayanar courted controversy when he said that in the US, rape was so frequent and normal like sipping a cup of tea. Today tea got a new dimension when Kerala's Industries Minister EP Jayarajan said more breweries will be given licence just as panchayats accord licences to tea stalls.
Environmental concerns are being given a go-by and that too while attempting to rebuild a Kerala after the devastating floods. Water-guzzling breweries get priority over several other vital issues that need to be addressed.
And this ‘brewery policy decision’ comes from a minister of the CPIM-led Left Democratic Front which came to power on the promise that it would not promote raising liquor consumption in the state, but would do all to bring it down and even used two leading film stars, KPAC Lalitha and Innocent for the campaign.
But two years down the line, the LDF has forgotten what the actors said and has granted the nod for setting up three breweries and a bottling plant. Lopsided is the development priority of the LDF. While granting permission, the government stand was that there was a 40 per cent shortage in beer supply in the State which is met from outside. More breweries would mean ‘self-sufficiency’ and even job-creation. If it honestly stood by its policy to wean away people from liquor, it could have well forgone the 40 per cent short-supply.
One among the breweries for which clearance has been given is at drought-prone Elapully where a Plachimada-like agitation is brewing. It was the earlier LDF Government under VS Achuthanandan that formulated a water policy where priority was for making potable water available, followed by irrigation. Industrial supply came only after that.
According to studies, the first scientific estimation of the dynamic groundwater resources of the State was undertaken in 1989 and all blocks were in the white (safe) category and found to be 8,117 MCM (million cubic metres). A decade later, this dropped to 6,841 MCM and of the 151 blocks, 15 were identified as water-scarce.
During the peak of the agitation in Plachimada that started in 1999 against the Coca Cola factory for overexploitation of groundwater and polluting the vicinity, one more estimation was undertaken. In 2004 when the factory finally shut down, the report said one-third of the blocks had gone into the sensitive category and five were in the overexploited category and 15 under critical and 30 in the semi-critical categories. The report had made clear that there should be no further extraction of groundwater from these five blocks. Two of these, Chittur and Malampuzha are in Palakkad.
Coca Cola Resistance Committee head by R Ajayan, who was in the forefront of the Plachimada agitation, told PenNews that one of the breweries that had got sanction comes under the Chittur block which has been declared overexploited. “There cannot be any more industries here drawing ground water. While the agitation against Coca Cola which needed 3 litres of water to produce 1 litre of the soft drink, in the case of producing 1 litre of beer is more than double of that. Already, Palakkad is reeling under drinking water scarcity and beer is not an essential item as the Government thinks,” said Ajayan.
Drinking water needs are to be met from Malampuzha dam. It is estimated that the daily need is 250 million litres but that is not being pumped, Ajayan says. From this, 12 MLD is given to Kinfra Park which makes water availability for people of Palakkad even lesser.
People in Elapully are already on a warpath against the proposed brewery. It is another Plachimada in the making, admits Ajayan who feels that it is a just people's movement for water.