Friends of the Earth India (FoE India) stands in solidarity with the people of Plachimada in Kerala, India, who have been waiting for years for compensation for the losses they have suffered due to Coca-Cola Company’s plant in the region. In addition, FoE India raises serious objections to Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, CoP27, at Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt and demands the immediate withdrawal of Coca-Cola as a main sponsor.
Plachimada, a remote village in the Palakkad district of Kerala, is situated in the Palakkad Gap in the Western Ghats mountain ranges. Hence, the village receives substantially less rainfall compared to other areas in the state. The state has very low groundwater potential and the available resource is over-exploited in the Palakkad Gap region due to semi-arid conditions.
The Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd (HCBPL) plant at Plachimada started its operation in 1999. In the five years of its operations, until the plant stopped functioning in May 2004, it severely destroyed the region’s social and environmental fabric.
The report of the High Power Committee constituted by the state government to assess the damages caused by the HCBPL states that “It is evident that the damages caused by the Coca-Cola factory at Plachimada have created a host of social, economic, health and ecological problems, cutting across different sectors.”
The Committee had looked into the impacts on water, agriculture, the environment and health of the public. It had conducted several studies, including that of the Central Ground Water Board, Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, Legislature Committees, State Ground Water Board, State Pollution Control Board and health department. It also looked into study reports by reputed agencies outside the government, including the University of Exeter (UK).
A study conducted by the Kerala Agricultural University at Plachimada during 2004-06 on the level and impact of heavy metal pollution in the village found consistently and significantly higher levels of cadmium and lead in the well waters and the samples of soil, fodder, milk, meat and egg collected from the area.
Based on the assessment of impacts on water, soil, agriculture, the environment and health, “The Committee has come to the conclusion that the Company is responsible for these damages and it is obligatory that they pay the compensation to the affected people for the agricultural losses, health problems, loss of wages, loss of educational opportunities, and the pollution caused to the water resources.” The Committee arrived at a conservative figure of Rs. 216.26 crores (26.14 million USD at the current rate) as compensation to be paid by HCBPL. Unfortunately, the company has refused to pay.
Even after a prolonged legal battle in Kerala High Court and then the Supreme Court, Coca-Cola Company relinquished its licence in July 2017 and stated that it would not resume production in the plant. The struggle in Plachimada against Coca-Cola raises issues of mindless destruction of groundwater by a multinational company and exposes the gross inadequacies in the laws of governance and the rights to water.
The following are the demands laid out by the people of Plachimada:
- Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill must be passed immediately
- The Pollution Control Board should sue the Coca-Cola Company, Plachimada under provisions 43 & 47 of the Water Act
- The owners of the company should be arrested in the case registered under the Act for Prevention of Atrocities against Schedule Caste/Schedule Tribes
- The government should provide provisional compensation to the people of Plachimada until the matter is settled finally by the tribunal
- Immediate compensation to the people of Plachimada for the social, environmental, ecological, agricultural, health and economic losses
- Existing laws should be amended to give powers to the Gramsabha for the protection of groundwater resources.
In this context, the opportunity given to Coco Cola Company to sponsor the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, CoP27, in Egypt is highly condemnable and unjust to the people who are suffering.
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