Kerala to set up tribunal to get compensation from Coke


Prime VIP
The LDF Government in Kerala today decided to set up a special tribunal to realise compensation from multinational softdrinks giant Coca Cola for the "serious losses" caused to people, environment and agriculture by its plant at Plachimada in Palakkad District.

The state cabinet took the decision based on the report of a government appointed high-power committee which quantified the losses inflicted by the plant of the Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Ltd, the Indian subsidiary of Coca Cola, at Rs216.26 crore, Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan told reporters.

The Law Department had been asked to work out the details of the proposed tribunal, he said.

However, the company, which had run into legal tangles quite often over the issue, stuck to its position that the committee was set up with "a pre-determined and unproven conclusion" that operations of the plant had caused loss to the residents of plachimada.

The Coca Cola plant at Plachimada had been virtually dysfunctional for the last four years as it was the target of agitations by resistance groups.

The company had faced problems with the government which had even banned sale of Cola products in the state, but lifted it on the basis of an high court order.

The cabinet took the decision after overruling certain reservations expressed by Principal Secretary (Industries) T Balakrishnan on rushing to conclusions on the recommendations of the high power committee.

The panel headed by Additional Chief Secretary K Jayakumar had submitted its report two months ago.

"I have already conveyed to you the cabinet decision", Achuthanandan shot back when reporters asked about the official's views contradicting LDF's position on the issue.

He said the report had concluded the Coca Cola plant had inflicted "serious losses" in terms of health of local people and caused agricultural and environmental harm. Newly born babies in the area were suffering from serious health problems like underweight, he said.

The loss quantified by the committee was apart from the depletion of ground water sources caused by the plant.

The report had also claimed that besides causing severe damage to farming sector in the rural area with sizable tribal population, the plant's functioning had resulted in loss of over four lakh work-days for labourers in the area for four years, Achuthanandan said.

He said the Cabinet agreed with the recommendation of the panel report that the company should bear the cost of the damage it inflicted on the people and the environment.

The anti-Cola agitators and lobbyists had been pressing the government to act fast after the recent court verdict on Bhopal gas tragedy.

However, certain statements and official note given by the Industries Secretary against rushing to a decision on the issue have come as an embarrassment for the government.

The 14-member high power committee, which included experts from various fields, was set up about one-and-a-half-years ago under pressure from various political parties and anti-Cola agitators.

The committee recommended that either the state on its own constitute a tribunal or ask the Centre to take steps to realise compensation from the company on the basis "polluter pays" principle.