The Kerala assembly on Thursday passed a bill introduced by the state government to set up a tribunal for realising compensation from Coca Cola for the “environmental loss and other damages” caused by its bottling plant in Palakkad.
The state government in June last year had declared its intention to set up a tribunal to “to assess the actual compensation due to every applicant and issue orders to the company for compliance”.
Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Ltd, the Indian wing of the US major, however, has deplored the move. “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 legal options.
This is an issue that goes back at least to 2003, when there were movements against the alleged depletion and contamination of groundwater by the company’s Plachimada plant.
In 2006 Kerala banned Coke. The ban, however, was lifted on the orders of the high court.
The bill has its basis in the recommendations of a high-powered committee that found that the plant caused a loss of Rs 216.6 crore through its alleged environment-destroying activities. Besides affecting water availability, the plant had reportedly dumped toxic sludge, contaminating soil and groundwater.
A three-member tribunal will hear complaints of local residents and announce compensation for those affected. It will set a timeframe of disbursing compensation.
It was the 1996-2001 Left Democratic Front government that had invited both Coke and Pepsi to open factories in the state. Set up in a drought-affected area of the state, both were given many doles initially.