The Kerala government lacks jurisdiction or power to declare packaged drinking water as an essential article and therefore, its order fixing the price of bottled water at Rs 13 per litre was "legally unsustainable", the High Court said on Wednesday, December 15, and put on hold both decisions. "Since exhibits P1 (2019 notification) and P3 (price fixation order) are beyond the jurisdiction of the state government, that is to be stayed," the High Court said.
The court also stayed all proceedings consequent to the state government's 2019 notification â€” which declared packaged drinking water as an essential article â€” and the subsequent 2020 order fixing its price. The court said that while the intention behind the notification and the price fixation was "genuine and laudable", the state government "lacks jurisdiction in declaring packaged drinking water as an essential article under the Kerala Essential Articles Control Act,1986 in the light of the Food Safety Act 2006".
The court further said that the 2019 notification was also beyond the power of the state. "In such circumstances, I am of the prima facie opinion that respondent No 1 (state) lacks jurisdiction in declaring packaged drinking water as an essential article based on notification, and consequently, the order regulating the price of the packaged drinking water is legally unsustainable," it said.
The court, however, said that packaged drinking water was being sold at different prices across the state and therefore, the state government should come with a proposal to regulate it in consultation with the Union government. It directed the Union government to file an affidavit on how the price of packaged drinking water can be regulated. It directed that the affidavit be filed within two months from Wednesday.
The directions came on a batch of three petitions filed challenging the 2019 notification and the subsequent 2020 order fixing the cap of Rs 13 on packaged drinking water.
The 2019 notification had come pursuant to a representation moved by the Kerala Bottled Water Manufacturing Association before the state government for taking measures to control the selling price of bottled drinking water.
The state government, defending its action, told the court that it is not the drinking water that is regulated but the composite product of bottled drinking water and therefore, it has the power to regulate the price of bottled drinking water.
The court, however, did not agree with the contention.