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Home > News > Report

A panchayat fights Coke for its water

George Iype in Kochi | November 25, 2003 20:14 IST

Soft drinks giant, Coca Cola, will testify before a panchayat council in Kerala's Palakkad district on December 2 to argue that its plant is not over-exploiting groundwater resources and therefore its factory at Plachimada village should not be shut down.

Perumatty panchayat has asked Coca Cola officials to appear before its council to prove with facts and figures that the plant is not violating its license conditions.

The legal battle between Coke and the panchayat is almost a year-long now. The panchayat blames the soft drink giant for the depleting groundwater levels in Plachimada and neighbouring villages.

This is the second time that Coke officials will appear before the panchayat. The first time was on November 17, when, the Perumatty panchayat presidentA Krishnansays, the company only gave "incomplete and unsatisfactory" answers.

"If Coca Cola fails to produce satisfactory explanations and provide valuable evidences, the panchayat will cancel the plant's license," Krishnan told rediff.com on Tuesday.

The panchayat also alleges that the company converted paddy fields into dry land in violation of the provisions of the Kerala Land Utilisation Order.

In July, the British Broadcasting Corporation, in an investigative report, had said that the sludge that Coke supplies to local farmers contains dangerous toxic chemicals such as carcinogen cadmium, which pollute the land and groundwater.

Krishnan alleges that the company has not yet given the details sought by the panchayat, such as the products manufactured at the facility, quality of groundwater used and the facilities for recharging the same.

When Coke set up the bottling plant -- its largest in India -- in a 16-hectare compound more than three years ago, it had excited the approximately 1,000 households. The unit employed some 250 people from Plachimada and its neighbouring villages.

But environmentalists and activists, who are leading a campaign against the plant,say it is drawing 1.5 million litres of water every day from the common groundwater resource through dozens of bore wells.

A recent Greenpeace report said Coke's water mining has parched the lands of more than 2000 families residing within 1.2 miles of the factory.

In September, worldwide charity organisation, Action Aid, submitted a report to the World Trade Organisation saying that Plachimada was a thriving agricultural community until Coca-Cola set up the bottling plant in 1998. Coconut groves and vegetable crops have had to be abandoned because of the depleting groundwater levels.

Now, the Perumatty panchayat is all set to decide the plant's fate on December 2. When contacted, officials at the Coke plant refused to comment.

There are reports that Coca Cola may agree to implement'a development plan' for Plachimada and other adjoining villages. Officials say the company has promised to set up a water supply scheme to provide drinking water to each family in the villages.

The company has also informed the panchayat that it is ready to adopt the primary health centers and educational institutions in the area.



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