An enquiry had been ordered into the death of more than 500 head of cattle, including sheep, in the last few days at a village in Tirunelveli district, about 150 km from Madurai, allegedly due to toxic discharges from a nearby bottling plant operated for softdrink major Coca Cola.
Residents of the Rajapathi village near the SIPCOT Complex at Gangaikondan, where the plant is being operated by the South India Bottling Plant (SIBP), an agent for Coca-Cola, allege that the cattle had died after drinking the water mixed with the stored waste of the plant, a charge denied by SIBP.
District officials said a team comprising Animal Husbandry Department and Pollution Control Board officials had been sent to the village for an enquiry into the deaths.
They said post-mortem of the animals revealed presence of some toxic element. But it was yet to be confirmed if the effluents discharged by the plant was the source of the toxic content. "It requires further test," they added.
Veterinary doctors said monsoon viral and bluetongue disease could also have caused the deaths.
But, the villagers question this saying in case of viral attack, it would have spread to nearby villages as well.
Animal Husandary department officials also agreed that the sheep had died only in the Gangaikondan area.
Former MLA and Convenor of Tamirabharani River and Grounwater Protection movement R Krishnan, who visited the village, said, "we believe that effluents from the plant is the reason for the death of the animals."
The SIBP unit had been facing protests since its inception with the local people apprehending threat to the groundwater resources in their neighbourhood.
The mysterious deaths had also triggered distress sale in the area with brokers quoting just Rs 50 Rs 150 a sheep.
Deputy Manager (Administration) of the plant S Kannan, however, denied that effluents from the plant contained any toxic substance. "No effluent is discharged from the plant as it had been equipped with state-of-the-art effluent treatment plant and had zero discharge facility," he claimed.
Krishnan, who sought compensation for the farmers who had lost their cattle, said closure of the unit alone would provide permanent relief.
A fact finding team of Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN), an international humanrights organisation, which also visited the area, said more than 400 sheep and goats died in the last two days. Farmers were unanimous that the effluent from the plant was the main reason for the deaths, the team members led by Esther Mariam of Wolfe of Switzerland, said.
They found as many as 34 villages around Gangaikondan faced severe drinking water crisis after the factory came up. "You should not give water in such a large quantity to a private enterpriss," they said on Wednesday.
The team members met District Collector G Prakash and urged him to cancel the plant's licence.