Tribunal to recover damages from Coke in Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram, June 30 (IANS) A tribunal will be set up to recover Rs.216.26 crore from Coca-Cola for the socio-economic damage caused by its bottling plant in Palakkad that has now been shut down, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan said Wednesday. The soft drink giant, however, maintained that it had done no wrong.

The cabinet came to this decision after the report submitted by a nine-member expert panel headed by Additional Chief Secretary K. Jayakumar was accepted, Achuthanandan told reporters here.

‘The report said that through the operation of the Coke factory, serious damages to the environment, health of the people and loss in the agriculture sector were found and the total loss was estimated to be Rs.216.26 crore. Health problems include large number of underweight newborns and in four years, 4.36 lakh agriculture man-days were lost,’ he said.

The panel, constituted by the government in 2009, visited the surrounding areas of the plant on four occasions and had detailed talks with villagers.

‘We decided that a tribunal be set up and as per the committee’s direction, damages should be recovered from the company itself. We have now asked the law department to form a tribunal,’ said Achuthanandan.

The Coca-Cola bottling plant at Plachimada was set up in 1999 and it was closed down in 2004 following a sustained campaign against it.

The soft drink giant, however, said in a statement that it disagreed with the recommendations of the committee and the proposed follow-up action.

‘The said committee in our view was set up with the pre-determined and unproven conclusion that our operations has caused loss to the residents of Plachimada. This is in spite of the fact that numerous scientific studies by independent experts and investigations by the government of Kerala itself have shown that we are not the cause of local watershed issues,’ the statement said.

‘It is our opinion that any government committee or panel reviewing claims should first determine through scientific study and through established process of law whether any damage was caused to the residents of Plachimada, and second, if such damage was caused, who was responsible,’ it added.

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