The Kerala-Coke tussle goes on…and on! After a lull, the soft drink giant is back in the news after a report submitted to the government pointed fingers at Coca Cola for having caused socio-economic damage amounting to Rs 216.26 crore at Plachimada village in Palakkad district of Kerala.
An obviously irked Coca Cola has rejected the allegation in a very strong manner.
As per the report, it has been found that Coca Cola has been responsible for around Rs 84.16 crore worth of damage to agriculture, Rs 62.10 crore cost to pollution of water sources, Rs.20 crore each for cost of water provided and wage loss and opportunity cost and Rs 30 crore loss on account of various health problems. The report was submitted to Kerala’s Water Resources Minister N K Premachandran by a nine-member committee with Additional Chief Secretary K Jayakumar at the helm. The panel has also called upon the government to take steps to set up a tribunal and compensate the loss suffered by the villagers of Plachimada.
In response to the report and the alleged findings, Coca Cola has said that the panel was set up based on the unproven assumption that the company had caused damage in the Plachimada area. Minister Premachandran has said that the report would now be examined by the government and suitable action would be taken.
The K Jayakumar panel had been set up by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government led by VS Achuthanandan last year. The panel members had visited the areas around the Plachimada plant at least four times and sat with the villagers to know of their woes. Significantly, not once did a panel-Coke officials meeting happen, and the reason being said is that the Coke officials never appeared before the committee.
The content of the report now out in the open, many are a happy lot on Plachimada. The Adivasi Samrakshana Sanghom (ASS), which had been fighting against the Coca Cola company, has welcomed the panel’s report and has subsequently urged the Kerala government to recover the damages from the soft drink giant. ASS has, in fact, demanded Rs 4,500 crore, taking into account the loss incurred by this operation on the future generations too.
The Plachimada plant of Coca Cola was set up in 1999 with the blessings of the then Left Chief Minister and Communist veteran E K Nayanar. However, things went out of control for the company after a sustained campaign against the plant gained momentum. The plant had to be closed down in 2004.