Polluter didn’t pay: Plachimada awaits compensation from Coca-Cola, 2 decades on

The Coca-Cola plant that caused over-exploitation of groundwater, toxic contamination of soil, groundwater, loss of agriculture and health in Plachimada shut down 18 years ago

By Zumbish
Published: Monday 10 October 2022
Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock Photo: iStock

Coca-Cola Co, the multi-American beverages giant with presence across the globe, has been in news for its sponsorship of the upcoming 27th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Even as it draws flak for littering the world with its bottles and cans, in India, there is another concern: The company is yet to shell out compensate those affected by its Plachimada plant in Kerala.

People from the area told DTE that they wanted the Union government to make sure the company paid the compensation.

The Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd (HCBPL), Coca-Cola’s Indian subsidiary, had set up a plant that manufactured soft drinks in Plachimada village of Palakkad district in 2000.

The plant was closed in 2004 following protests by local Adivasi residents who said it had caused the village land to become barren, contaminated its water and violated rules and acts. The plant remained closed till May 2021.

The Plachimada Struggle Solidarity Committee confirmed to DTE that no penalty had been imposed on Coca-Cola till date. Isa bin Abdulkareem, general convenor of the Committee, said:

We demand that the Coca-Cola Company be prosecuted for the extraction and over-exploitation of water in Plachimada. It should pay the compensation amount to Plachimada villagers immediately.

“We have organised a Satyagraha to get compensation from Coca-Cola. The government should take urgent steps to make sure the company provides us the said compensation. Our protest has been going on for 20 years,” Sakthivel, a protester from Plachimada, told DTE.   

Georgekutty Kadaclacka, who had come from Kottayam district to join the Satyagraha October 8 said: “What the company did to the people of Plachimada cannot be reversed. However, the compensation should not be denied anymore.”  

Why no compensation?

The Kerala Assembly had unanimously passed the Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims’ Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill February 24, 2011. This step was taken to adjudicate disputes relating to compensation of Rs 216.25 crore.

That amount was to be paid by the company for over-exploitation of groundwater, toxic contamination of soil, groundwater and water bodies, loss of agriculture and causing health problems in Plachimada.

HCCB is said to have violated the following Acts because of its actions sat Plachimada:

  1. Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
  2. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
  3. The Factories Act, 1948
  4. Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989
  5. The SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
  6. Indian Penal Code
  7. Land Utilization Order, 1967
  8. The Kerala Ground Water (Control & Regulation) Act, 2002 Indian Easement Act, 1882
  9. Indian Easement Act, 1882

The Bill sought the establishment of a tribunal to try all disputes for compensation and secure it from Coca Cola company. But it never saw the light of day.

The state governor had reserved the Bill for Presidential consideration in 2011. In March of the same year, it was forwarded to the Government of India and remained with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs for months.

The Centre had then argued that environmental compensations came under the purview of the NGT and a state government did not have powers to form a separate tribunal to deal with them.

In November 2015, the governor of Kerala was informed that the then-President Pranab Mukherjee “had been pleased to withhold his assent from the Bill”.

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