The Kerala state cabinet has set up a Plachimada Claims Tribunal to realise compensation of Rs 216.26 crore (US$ 46.2 million) from Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Company for the ecological damages it caused Plachimada village in Palakkad district of Kerala.
The tribunal was announced on 30 June 2010 in the wake the recommendations of a high powered committee, headed by chief secretary K Jayakumar. It will adjudicate disputes relating to compensation for the damage the company’s cola bottling plant caused in the village by over-exploiting the groundwater resources and discharging pollutants into the water. The sum is meant to compensate Plachimada residents for agricultural losses, health problems and loss of wages, among other things. The plant in Palakkad district was closed in March 2004 following a high court order and loud protests by Plachimada residents.
Kerala chief minister VS Achuthanandan announced the setting up of the tribunal in view of the recommendations of the Jayakumar report submitted in 22 March 2010, saying a tribunal would be needed to force Coca Cola to compensate people for polluting their water resources. “Attempts of Coca Cola to delay and subvert the decisions have been defeated. The government should now ensure that no more Plachimadas are allowed to happen,” said R Ajayan, convener, Plachimada Solidarity Committee.
The committee report stated that ‘the compensation is not to be viewed as a quid pro quo for not initiating criminal charges. Therefore, Government may proceed against the company in accordance with various laws as it has violated a number of provisions.’
The high-level committee had also reported that the company had flouted the provisions of several acts, including the Water Act of 1974, the Environment Protection Act of 1986, the Factories Act of 1948 and the Hazardous Waste Rules of 1989.
In its reaction to the cabinet decision, Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd said in a statement that numerous scientific studies and investigations by independent experts and the Kerala Government itself had shown that the plant was not the cause of local water-shed issues.
“We have given our views in the past that the Jayakumar Committee was set up with the pre-determined and unproven conclusion that the operations of the HCCB Pvt Ltd have caused loss to the residents of Plachimada.”
“It is our opinion that any government committee or panel reviewing claims should first determine through an established process of law whether any damage was caused to the residents of Plachimada, and second, if such damage was caused, who was responsible,” the statement said.
For background information on agitation against Coca Cola in India visit the web site of the India Resource Center