The High Power Committee headed by Additional Chief Secretary K. Jayakumar on the extent of damages caused by the Coca-Cola plant at Plachimada in Palakkad district of Kerala has recommended to the government that a dedicated institution should be set up to adjudicate on individual claims for compensation.

In a report submitted to the Minister for Water Resources N.K. Premachandran here on Monday, the Committee indicated that the cola company had caused multi-sectoral damages amounting to Rs. 216.26 crore through operation of its plant and other actions, and was obliged to pay compensation to the affected people. (The local people had organised a long drawn out agitation against depletion of water sources and pollution by the company.)

It recommended that the State government could either set up a Tribunal under Article 323 B of the Constitution or request the Centre to form an Authority under the Environment (Protection) Act to determine the compensation and enforce payment. The Authority could be vested with all the powers necessary to deal with the situation created by the company as was done in Tamil Nadu to deal with issues arising from tanneries and other polluting industries. It also suggested that the company, located in a drought-prone area, should not resume its operation.

The Committee observed that the company had violated the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, the Environment (Protection) Act, the Factories Act, Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Indian Penal Code, Land Utilisation Order, the Kerala Ground Water (Control and Regulation) Act and Indian Easement Act. “The fact that Coca-Cola factory at Plachimada has caused immense damage to the environment and people and their livelihood and health is supported by impeccable evidence.”

It estimated that the agriculture loss from the activities of the Company would come to Rs. 84.16 crore. Health damages came to Rs. 30 cores and wage loss and opportunity cost to Rs. 20 crore. The cost of providing water to the villagers came to Rs. 20 corres. It also estimated the damage from pollution of water resources to be Rs. 62.10 crore.

“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 value of water extracted and depleted has not been calculated though it needs to be compensated.”

The 14-member committee consisted of officials and experts in law, environment, health and water resources.

Committee’s observations, recommendations

* The Coca Cola Company at Plachimada has been causing environmental degradation by over extraction of ground water and irresponsible disposal of the sludge.

* The Coca Cola Company is culpable under several laws in force.

* The water resources of the area have been affected and water scarcity has been compounded.

* By passing off the sludge as manure, the Company has not only misguided the farmers but has become responsible for the soil degradation, water contamination and consequential loss of agriculture.

* There has been a steady decline in the agriculture production in the area.

* The production of milk, meat and eggs also has suffered.

* Metals like cadmium, lead and chromium have been detected in the sludge and this has affected the health of the people.

* The general health of the people has been affected with skin ailments, breathing problems and other debilities.

* Low birth weight of children has also been noticed.

* Environment of the village has been acutely damaged by polluting water and soil.

* Drinking water has become scarce and women have to walk long distances. This has deprived them of their wages, and this needs to be compensated.

* Children have dropped out of schools on account of the social, health and economic factors caused by the pollution and this opportunity cost has to be compensated.

* The Grama Panchayat has been providing drinking water in tanker-lorries ever since the wells and water bodies have been rendered useless by the Company by its extraction of water and disposal and effluents.