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Kerala industry secretary in trouble, speaking for Coke

Thiruvananthapuram, May 26 (IANS) Kerala Industry Secretary T. Balakrishnan, who is of the rank of additional chief secretary, appears to be in trouble over his remark early this week seemingly favouring soft drink giant Coca Cola.

The state cabinet Wednesday directed chief secretary to inquire and submit a report on his junior’s statement on the closure of the company’s bottling plant in Plachimada in Palakkad district about six years back.

‘He (the chief secretary) has been asked to inquire and submit a detailed report on what happened. When the cabinet meets next week the report would be discussed in detail,’ Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan told reporters after the weekly cabinet meeting here.

Balakrishnan said at a seminar Monday here that Kerala was the only state in the country where the Coca Cola’s bottling plant of Coke was closed down and they (the government/his department) were unable to do anything to prevent it.

State Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem, who was on the dais when Balakrishnan made the statement, was quick to distance himself from his secretary’s view, saying the statement had nothing to do with the policies of the government and was the personal opinion of the senior official.

The seminar was oganised by the state-owned Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation.

A few Left-supported student and youth organisations have been up in arms against Balakrishnan for his statement and have been demanding his immediate removal from the post of industries secretary.

Only on March 22 a nine-member expert panel headed by another additional chief secretary K. Jayakumar had given a report saying the socio-economic damages caused by the cola giant’s bottling plant at Plachimada district was to the tune of Rs 216.26 crore.

The panel was constituted by the Achuthanandan government in 2009. Coca Cola’s representatives did not appear before the panel, which visited several villages in the areas to assess the damage.

The bottling plant was set up at Plachimada in 1999 after the then ruling Left government under Marxist veteran E.K. Nayanar had approved it. Achuthanandan was the Left Democratic Front convenor at that time.

Plachimada had over the last one decade become synonymous with the fight of the common people against corporate over-exploitation of natural resources. The Coke bottling plant drew excess water from the wells on its premises each day. This resulted in the drastic depletion of water levels and environmental pollution caused by the effluents.

The plant was shut in 2004 following a sustained campaign by various organisations against its operations.

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