Agitation against Coke plant crosses 3,000 days
G. Prabhakaran, 12 July 2010, The Hindu PALAKKAD – The agitation against alleged exploitation of groundwater by soft drink major Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd. at Plachimada, a remote village in Perumatty grama panchayat in Chittur taluk, completed 3,000 days on Friday.
The agitation has been described as a struggle by the local people to establish their right to natural resources such as soil and water and a fight to protect their livelihood of agriculture.
The bottling unit, which began operations in March 2000, was shut down after the panchayat, ruled by the Janata Dal which was then with the Left Democratic Front (LDF), cancelled its licence on April 7, 2004. The government had allowed the soft drink major to launch operations in Plachimada in the hope that it would bring development and generate employment in the backward area. The bottling unit was established in March 2000 with 140 regular employees and 250 casual labourers.
However, one year after the company launched operations, it was found that the groundwater table in the area had receded and a large number of bore wells had run dry. Consequently, several drinking water schemes in Chittur taluk were affected, leading to shortage of potable and irrigation water. K. Krishnankutty, former MLA of Chittur, told The Hindu that the groundwater table had gone down after the company began drawing 5 to 10 lakh litres daily. The local peoplebegan an agitation. Initially, it was a local stir, but it soon drew international attention with environmentalists, including Medha Patkar, Vandana Shiva, joining the movement against the exploitation of natural resources by the multinational at the cost of people and the environment.
The LDF, then in the Opposition, and leading politicians, including M.P. Veerendrakumar, then MP, and V.S. Achuthanandan, then the Leader of Opposition, supported the agitation.
‘Water, not soft drink’
Mr. Veerendrakumar said a rain-shadow and water-starved area like Chittur did not require a soft drink factory. It was the people’s right to get drinking water which was violated in Plachimada. He said the factory used 14 litres of water to make one litre of Cola. Initially, the Perumatty panchayat imposed a restriction on the use of groundwater. The licence of the unit was revoked on April 7, 2004, triggering a stand-off between the panchayat and the then State government led by the United Democratic Front (UDF). The panchayat justified its decision stating that the licence was cancelled “for violating statutory rules as well as exploitation of groundwater and causing pollution.” The firm has remained closed since then.
The Anti-Coca-Cola Agitation Committee is now continuing the stir to realise compensation for the affected people of Plachimada and the adjoining areas based on the recommendations of a high-power committee of the State government headed by Additional Chief Secretary K. Jayakumar.
Anti-Coca Cola Agitation Committee chairman Vilayodi Venugopal, Plachimada Agitation Solidarity Committee secretary R. Ajayan, and convener Velur Swamithan have demanded that the government constitute a tribunal to decide on the compensation from the company.
Demand to set up tribunal to decide on compensation
People’s struggle is supported by environmentalists
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