Taking the fizz out of the cola major, Kerala Assembly on Thurday passed a bill to set up a special tribunal to realize compensation from Coca Cola for the ‘environmental loss and other damages’ caused by its bottling plant in Plachimada in Palakkad district.
The first state to ban coke in 2006, the CPM led Left Democratic Front has rushed through the rare legislation targeting the cola giant on the final day of the Assembly Session. However, the Indian wing of the American major, Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Limited, strongly deplored the move.
"Though Coke received many favorable verdicts from the judiciary, the government seems adamant to punish it." “The bill is devoid of any facts or scientific data. We have not given a chance to present our case. We are disappointed with the latest move,” it said in a statement adding it would explore all possible options.
The latest bill was on the basis of the recommendations of a high powered committee which found that a loss of Rs 216.6 had been caused by the cola plant.
Surprisingly, it was the previous LDF government, led by E K Nayanar, which had invited both Coke and Pepsi to open their factory outlets in the state. Set up in a drought affected area of the state, both were heavily subsidised initially.
The CPI(M) led LDF government rushed through the bill on the final day of the present assembly while the House was in uproar with Congress led UDF opposition pressing for an adjournment on a different issue.
The bill was based on the recommendations of a high powered committee, headed by a senior bureaucrat, which found that a loss of Rs 216.16 crore had been caused by the plant of the Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages at Plachimada village in Palakkad district.
The bill, titled "The Plachimada Coca Cola Victims Relief and Compensation Claims Tribunal Bill 2011," said the plant had caused environmental, soil degradation and water contamination due to over extraction of ground water leading to drinking water scarcity and decline in agriculture due to disposal of sludge, which contained metals like cadmium, lead and chromium.
It said the sludge disposal also affected the health of people causing skin ailments, breathing problems and other debilities.
The special tribunal was intended to settle all disputes on problems caused by the plant within a fixed timelimit. The Plachimada plant has been virtually dysfunctional for several years, following prolonged agitations by resistance groups, including tribals and legal battles against extraction of ground water by the company.
At one point of time, the state Government even banned production and sale of cola but it was lifted later following a high court order. The bill was returned to the House on Thursday after consideration by a Subject Committee which had on it, members from both ruling and opposition sides.
The three member tribunal will have powers to consider petitions for compensation or restitution of property damaged, against the company, arising out of grievances due to violation of laws relating to environment, air and water pollution.
A release from HCCB said "We are disappointed in the Plachimada Tribunal Bill and the flawed process on which it is based. This Bill is devoid of facts, scientific data or any input from or consideration given to the Company." It said the company was never offered an opportunity to present facts, engage in dialogue or share independent data before the bill was tabled or passed.
Kerala government in June, 2010 decided to set up a tribunal to assess actual compensation due to every applicant
The issue goes back to 2003, when there were movements against alleged depletion and contamination of groundwater by the company’s Plachimada plant.