Plachimada Nightmare

Anti-Coca Cola Struggle

Letter to UNO

The Secretary General,
The United Nations Organisation
Headquarters, New York, NY 10017

Sub: Request to remove Coca Cola from sponsorship for COP 27 Ref: Report of the High Power Committee constituted by the Government of Kerala to assess damages caused by the Coca Cola plant at Plachimada, Palakkad district, Kerala, India. We are grateful to the United Nations for its major role in addressing the climate crisis since the formation of the IPCC in 1987. On numerous occasions, you have personally come forward with strong appeals to world rulers and people to initiate serious actions to tackle the climate crisis.

Despite the big role played by the UN in addressing this biggest existential crisis for humanity, we are very sad to note that intervention by international corporate bodies at the annual Conference of Parties is jeopardizing the success of the COPs. Being the victims of a plant of Coca Cola in a remote village of Kerala in India, we are particularly disturbed and agitated to learn that Coca Cola is the official sponsor of the COP 27. We request you to remove Coca Cola from the sponsorship of the critical COP 27.

The social and environmental impacts inflicted by the operation of the Coca Cola plant at Plachimada is narrated briefly below for your kind perusal. Plachimada, a remote village in Palakkad district of central Kerala is situated in the Palakkad gap of the Western Ghats mountain ranges. Hence, the place receives substantially less rainfall compared to other places in the state.

The state has very low ground water potential and the available resource is over exploited in the Palakkad gap region due to semi-arid conditions. The Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd (HCBPL) plant at Plachimada started its operation in 1999. In the five years of its operations until the plant stopped functioning in May 2004, it had badly destroyed the social and environmental fabric of the region.

The report of the High Power Committee (hereinafter referred to as the Committee) constituted by the Government of Kerala to assess the damages caused by the HCBPL states that “It is evident that the damages caused by the Coca Cola factory at Plachimada have created a host of social, economic, health and ecological problems, cutting across different sectors.” The Committee had looked into the impacts on water, agriculture, environment and health of the public. It had conducted several studies including those of the Central Ground Water Board, Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, Legislature Committees, State Ground Water Board, State Pollution Control Board and the Department of Health. It had also looked into study reports by reputed agencies from outside the government including that of University of Exeter (UK).Some excerpts from the Committee report on presence of heavy metals are reproduced below. They are self-revelatory. “The presence of toxic metals cadmium (Cd) and lead (Pb) in the sludge generated by the plant was noticed for the first time in an analysis of the sludge by the University of Exeter (UK) on behalf of BBC in July 2003 when a sample of sludge dumped on a farm near the Cola factory was found to have 100 mg/kg cadmium and 1100 mg/kg lead........ The well water collected near to the farm where the sludge sample was collected also showed unacceptable level of lead. The sample had 65 micrograms/litre (0.065 mg/l) of lead, which is well beyond the permissible maximum of 0.05 mg/l set by the Bureau of Indian Standards for drinking water and way beyond the WHO guidelines of 0.01 mg/l.” “A study conducted by the Kerala Agricultural University at Plachimada during 2004- 06 on the level and impact of heavy metal pollution in the village found consistently and significantly higher levels of cadmium and lead in the well waters and in the samples of soil, fodder, milk, meat and egg collected from the area.”

“An extensive study of the presence of heavy metals in the ground water was conducted by the New Delhi based Hazards Centre and Dehra Dun’s Peoples Science Institute in November2005, the results of which were published9 in June 2006. The analysis done at PSI’s lab has found the toxic metals cadmium, lead and chromium at levels far higher than the permissible levels in nearly all of the 9 well water samples it had collected from Plachimada.” The report quotes various studies to establish reduction in drinking water availability. It also points to reduction in crop productivity and heavy metal presence in livestock. On health impacts, the Committee report says, “A systematic study of the health issues arising from pollution at Plachimada was done for the first time in November 2003 by a medical team led by Dr. M. N. Anuvarudheen, Dr. K. Muralidharan and Dr. T. P. Jayaraman. The team has found the prevalence of symptoms like hair loss, burning of eyes, cough, vomiting, pain in abdomen etc. which the team has attributed to the pollution caused by HCBPL.” HCBPL had scant respect for the law of the land and it was repeatedly ignoring various directions from concerned authorities. The Committee report says, “The KSPCB constituted a Local Area Environment Protection Committee (LAEPC) on 14.9.2004 that included two representatives of the HCBPL, following the direction of the SCMC, to ensure, among other things, that the Company provides uninterrupted piped supply of safe drinking water to the affected people and directed the Company to take immediate measures to provide this (Annexures VI). The Company blatantly refused to comply with this direction which was originally issued by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee. They wrote to the SCMC on 20.11.2004 arguing unconvincingly and rather naively that they have not caused pollution. ......The Company not only refused to comply but also refused to divulge to KSPCB the source of cadmium in the sludge (667% above permissible limit) on the ground that the information they had submitted did not contain any material likely to have cadmium content and the Company has claimed that its intake water was free from cadmium.”

We can quote a lot more from the Committee report and from several other reports, but refrain from doing so in order not to burden you with too much material. We are willing to present our case in details, if required. Based on the assessment of impacts on water, soil, agriculture, environment and health, “The Committee has come to the conclusion that the Company is responsible for these damages and it is obligatory that they pay the compensation to the affected people for the agricultural losses, health problems, loss of wages, loss of educational opportunities, and the pollution caused to the water resources.”

The Committee arrived at a very conservative figure of Rs. 216.26 crore (26.14 million USD at current rate) as compensation to be paid by HCBPL. Unfortunately, the company has refused to pay even this meagre amount. We request you to remove Coca Cola from the sponsorship of COP 27 as they are gross violators of all environmental norms and to restore the integrity of the decisive environmental conference. We also request you to kindly use your good offices to impress upon Coca Cola of their duty to compensate for the damages caused, as per the reference report along with interest at prevailing rates. The report of the High Power Committee is attached for your ready reference. We take this opportunity to extend our whole hearted support to your efforts to address the climate crisis and to ensure survival of the human race beyond this century. We thank you in advance for looking into the matter raised.

We anticipate just and reasonable action from you,

Thanking you once again,
Vilayodi Venugopal,
Chairperson, Plachimada Anti Coca Cola Struggle Committee
Plachimada, Kerala, India.
K Sakthivel, General Convenor, Plachimada Anti-Coca Cola Struggle Committee, Plachimada, Kerala, India

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Vol 55, No. 22, Nov 27 - Dec 3, 2022