Residents of Plachimada in Kerala are still fighting for their compensation, 16 years after the Coca Cola factory in the Palakkad village shut down. At the time, widespread protests by the tribal population of Plachimada had forced the factory to close down operations, as it was found to be drying up the neighbourhood wells and contaminating freshwater.
Recently, former top bureaucrat K Jayakumar, who was then Kerala’s Chief Secretary, revealed in an interview that the factory’s operations in Plachimada were a ‘betrayal’ and that the ‘voice of the poor had no value’. He also added that the Coca Cola factory ‘had tried to approach him but he did not budge’.
As the legal fight for compensation continues, the Kerala police have submitted a report to the SC/ST court in Mannarkad, stating that it was not possible to say whether the water pollution in Plachimada was due to the operations of the Coca Cola plant or not. The report is in connection to a case that was registered against the Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Private Ltd. (HCCB) in Palakkad. However, the police report is in direct contradiction to the findings of a High Powered Committee set up by the state government in 2010.
Following the High Powered Committee’s findings, a Bill was passed by the state government to establish the Plachimada Compensation Tribunal as per the committee’s recommendation. However, the Bill failed to receive the President’s assent and did not see the light of the day.
It has been over a decade since the plant closed down, and the water quality of the ponds and wells in Plachimada has probably improved as there is no toxic waste being deposited now, says Jayakumar. The former chief secretary also asks why the police have to submit such a report now.
Meanwhile, residents are yet to get compensated for their losses and suffering. Jayakumar says what happened in Plachimada was the neglect of the ‘common man’. He also pointed out that the Coca Cola plant had not just violated the SC/ST Atrocities Act, it had also violated the Water Act (Pollution Control and Prevention), Environment (Protection) Act, Factory Law, Hazardous Waste (Management and Management Rules) Act, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Violence) Act, Indian Penal Code, Groundwater Use Order, and Kerala Groundwater (Regulation and Regulation). The High Powered Committee’s report also pointed out that the law violated the Indian Assessment Act.
With each passing year, Plachimada’s case gets weaker, Jayakumar alleges. He adds that what happened in the village was really a scam. It was ultimately the power of the MNC that won. He also adds that had the tribunal been constituted immediately, the residents would probably have been compensated.