Staff Reporter

Reaction to company CEO's claim that the plant could be opened any time

Veerendrakumar chides Coke for going into denial

Panel member sees no ‘unproven assumption'

PALAKKAD: Activists who have successfully campaigned for the closure of a Coca-Cola plant at Plachimada have expressed anger and dismay over the statement made by Muhtar Kent, chief executive officer of the company, at its recent annual shareholders meeting in Atlanta, U.S., that it “could open the Plachimada plant any time.”

Reacting to the article “Coca-Cola's response disappoints Plachimada activists” in The Hindu, April 23, the activists urged the governments of various countries to close down Coca-Cola units as these consumed millions of litres of water daily despite the acute shortage of water experienced in many parts of the world. Leaders of the Janata Dal (Secular) faction that rules the Perumatty grama panchayat which cancelled the licence of the Plachimada plant resulting in its closure in 2004 said they would not allow the reopening, as it would invite disaster to the whole of Palakkad district.

Epic fight

M.P. Veerendrakumar, president of the faction and one of the key figures of the anti-Coca-Cola agitation, said the panchayat had taken on the soft-drink giant. The matter was now in the Supreme Court. It was a fight by a small grama panchayat against the soft-drink giant.

He said the company went into vehement denial whenever a statutory body or an expert committee found that it depleted groundwater and caused pollution. He described as false the company's claims that the plant did not deplete groundwater as it took water from a deep aquifer and did rainwater harvesting to recharge groundwater. Rainwater harvesting was of little use at Plachimada as the area fell in a rain shadow region.

He said the company never allowed the panchayat authorities to inspect the water meter of its plant, so the actual consumption of groundwater had been undisclosed. The same problems would arise in the Pudussery grama panchayat in Kanjikode, also in the district, where a Pepsi plant was still operating.

K. Krishnankutty, secretary-general of the Janata Dal (S) who hails from Plachimada, said his party would continue the fight against Coca-Cola and would not allow the plant to be reopened because it had already ruined the area and lives of the people living there.

Common stand

R. Ajayan, convener of the Plachimada Solidarity Committee, said the opinion expressed by Amit Srivastava of the Indian Resource Centre at the shareholders meeting represented the stand of anti-Coca-Cola agitators of Plachimada.

He said the company was still saying that it have done nothing wrong in Plachimada. But a high-power committee appointed by the State government found that its operations depleted the water table and polluted water and the environment.

Indanur Gopi, secretary of the Bharathapuzha Protection Committee, said the company contended that water availability at Plachimada had been unaffected by its extraction of 5 lakh litres of water every day. Its claim of tapping a deep aquifer with no link to surface water was contrary to facts. Water was not static but dynamic. The whole aquifer was part of the vast aquifer that was the Bharathapuzha river basin, or the river itself.

He said the biggest consumer of sugar in the world was Coca-Cola. In 2006, the company used 3,600 million litres of water for making colas.

Since the world had been facing an acute shortage of water, Coca-Cola, which was using millions of litres of water daily to make a sugary drink harmful to health, should be asked to closed down its units the world over.

P.S. Panicker of the Jana Jagratha, and Vilayodi Venugopal, chairman of the Anti-Coca-Cola Agitation Committee, said an unprecedented and prolonged agitation in Plachimada resulted in the closure of the unit. The swift action taken by the panchayat in cancelling the licence helped.

Robust evidence

S. Faize, a member of the high-power committee, contested the statement of the company representative Lisa Manley that the panel's report was based on the unproven assumption that the plant had caused damage to the area.

He said the report was based on robust evidence gathered from numerous scientific studies.

The analysis of groundwater data had shown that there was a 10.6-12 m drop in the phreatic aquifer (subsurface water) system in and around the plant area in December 2002 and this had further dropped by 11.4-13 m in May 2003 in spite of the better rainfall in that year's summer and in contrast to the rest of the Chittur block.

After the plant was closed in March 2004, the water level gradually began to rise as was found in May 2004 and May 2006.

He said the sludge generated by the company had toxic heavy metals way beyond permissible levels.

The Central Pollution Control Board had found the presence of lethal cadmium as high as 333.8 mg/kg, more than six times the permissible limit.

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