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NEWS: Kerala, India to fine Coca-Cola for damage to local water

Business Standard reports this afternoon that, “The Kerala government today introduced a Bill in the State Assembly to force Coca-Cola to pay compensation for the alleged negative ecological and health effects of its erstwhile factory at Plachimada in Palakkad district, and to distribute this money to the victims.”

By way of explanation, Kerala is a state in the south-western part of India. Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow, Blue Planet Project organizer Anil Naidoo, and now-Board member Bill Moore-Kilgannon visited there in 2004. Maude Barlow wrote that, “The Plachimada project is located on 38 acres of former rice paddies and extracts up to 1.5 million litres of water every day to be made into Coke, Fanta, Sprite, Thumbs Up, and other products. Every day, 85 trucks, each containing 600 cases of 24 bottles, leave the plant, exporting local water far away. Within a year after the plant opened, local water sources started to dry up, putting hundreds of farm families out of business. All 260-bore wells installed by public authorities have gone dry. As well, the soil, water and air around the plant have become contaminated from the sludge by-product, which includes cadmium and other trace metals. What is left of the water is not fit for bathing or cooking, so high are the chlorides from wastewater pumping from the plant.”

As noted in the Business Standard article, “The plant was closed after a prolonged agitation by area residents, making global news.”

That “agitation” was led by local women staging a daily sit-in directly across from the Coke plant for more than four years. In 2004, Barlow wrote, “I sat with the women protesters for several hours, sharing stories of grandchildren (through an interpreter) and even borrowing some for much-needed hugs. …We were invited in to the Coke plant, where we met with officials who assured us that there was plenty of water in the region and the farmers’ dried up wells had nothing to do with them. We emerged from the plant to a bank of television cameras and denounced the company in no uncertain terms.” Sadly, one of the leaders of the local women who Maude sat with, Mylamma, will not be able to witness passage of this Bill, she died in 2007 after suffering from illnesses she related to the contamination of the water in Plachimanda.

Business Standard notes that, “In March last year, an official committee of the state government reported the plant had caused serious damage to the environment of the village, leading to a loss of  Rs 216 crore.” (This is approximately 2,160,000,000 rupees or Cdn$47,113,883.)

“The Bill proposes to get compensation from the company and to form a tribunal to provide time-bound compensation. The tribunal is to have a chairman, a technical member and an administrative member.”

The Economic Times news report adds that, “The bill is likely to be passed during this week and it is learnt that the company will respond after the assembly decides on the bill. However, in an e-mail response to ET, the Coca-Cola Company has said: ‘Our stated position has been that we disagree with the recommendations of the High Powered Committee and subsequent follow up. The said committee, in our view, was set up with the pre-determined and unproven conclusion…'”

“The bill introduced on Tuesday and titled ‘Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims’ Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal 2011′, is expected to be carried through within the next couple of days, before the present session of the state assembly ends.”

IBNLive notes, “The bill, is expected be returned to the house by the Subject Committee in another two days, and adopted by the assembly as it was introduced after reaching a consensus between the ruling and the opposition sides. It is also important, that this is the final session of the present assembly as the elections are expected to be declared shortly and as per the schedule the sitting is to conclude on February 24.”

Maude Barlow’s report on Kerala can be read at http://www.blueplanetproject.net/Movement/India_3.html.

The news articles are at http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/kerala-govt-bill-to-make-coke-pay-for-plachimada/426222/, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/bill-in-kerala-house-to-penalise-coke-for-plachimada-plant/articleshow/7552659.cms and http://ibnlive.in.com/news/kerala-brings-in-bill-against-coca-cola/144051-3.html.