Farmers in villages surrounding SIPCOT Industrial Estate say they are not interested in taking part in the personal meetings sought by officials of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited (HCCBPL), in the wake of a massive bandh in Perundurai and Chennimalai areas earlier this month.
The bandh was observed in 23 panchayats in Perundurai Panchayat Union limits and 18 panchayats in Chennimalai Panchayat Union with a view to prevailing upon the State Government to scrap the permission granted to HCCBPL to start operations in the industrial estate.
The company had responded to the bandh saying it would engage stakeholders in a discussion to allay their apprehensions over depletion of water table and groundwater contamination.
A formal meeting was conducted last December at Perundurai.
But the proceedings had to be curtailed as the farmers were restive and the authorities had to evade a free-for-all situation.
Responding to the company’s recent move to convince the villagers, the Tamil Nadu Swadeshi Farmers’ Association has cautioned that further moves by the company to talk to people directly would lead to law and order problems.
Farmers in Perundurai and Chennimalai areas say the agreement the company has with SIPCOT for daily supply of 20 lakh litres of water sourced from the Cauvery riverbed was ‘outrageous’ in the predominantly dry area.
The Perundurai public feel let down by the State Government for permitting the MNC soft drinks giant to start operations in SIPCOT Industrial Estate, despite the company’s exit in 2004 from Plachimada in neighbouring Kerala due to environmental reasons.
A High-Power Committee formed by the Kerala Government in 2009 to determine the scale of damage caused by the company’s operations estimated that a minimum financial loss of Rs. 216.26 crore had been caused by the company’s bottling plant due to massive depletion of groundwater and extensive pollution from its sludge that was sold as manure to unsuspecting farmers.
Kerala State Pollution Control Board found lethal cadmium in the sludge at 201.8 mg per kg, which was four times the permissible level of 50 mg per kg.
A subsequent study by Central Pollution Control Board found the level at deeply worrying level of 333.8 mg per kg.
A study conducted by Kerala Agricultural University indicated high levels of cadmium in cow milk, chicken meat, egg, and fodder in Plachimada.
In 2007, a show cause notice was issued to the company by the KSPCB under the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules.