The agitation by residents of Plachimada in Kerala’s Palakkad district and nearby villages against the multinational giant Coca Cola is 2,500 days old. It thus becomes the longest popular struggle in the State’s history.
The MNC set up the Plachimada plant in 1999. As the factory depleted and polluted their water sources, the villagers, mainly Adivasis, began an agitation on April 22, 2002, with a symbolic blockade and continuous picketing.
When the panchayats stepped in to protect the interests of the villagers, the company dragged it into costly legal proceedings that extended all the way to the Supreme Court.
Eventually, however, the company had to shut down the plant as the State Pollution Control Board and the panchayats refused licences for continued working.
Mylamma, an Adivasi woman who emerged as the leading spokesperson of the Adivasis, has since died.
Although expert committees have upheld the villagers’ contention that the company has polluted their water sources, the government has desisted from taking any punitive action against it.
Velur Swaminathan, Secretary, Plachimada Adivasi Samrakshana Sangham (Tribal Protection Council) and R. Ajayan, Convener, Plachimada Samara Aikyadardya Samithi (Agitation Solidarity Committee) last week wrote an Open Letter to former UN Under Secretary General Shashi Tharoor taking exception to his association with the company as a member of the advisory board of Coca Cola India Foundation.
They listed the following charges against the company:
Coca Cola polluted the ground water with deadly toxic and carcinogenic cadmium and lead, which it has not listed under ‘raw materials’, and refused to provide an explanation for their presence.
Coca Cola distributed and spread the deadly toxic and carcinogenic cadmium and lead through its waste sludge and slurry, passing them off as good soil nutrients.
Coca Cola did not supply piped water to the affected families as ordered by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Waste.
Coca Cola, as the single largest extractor of ground water and largest transporter of water to other centres through soft drinks, a non-essential luxury good, made the most contribution to depletion of ground water.