Provoking another controversy over the Coca Cola issue, the Industries department of Kerala has taken a stand which goes against the government line. Commenting on the recommendations of a government-appointed committee, the Industries department secretary has said that the report would not have legal validity and would not stand before the court of law.
This comes in the backdrop of the chief minister V S Achuthanandan's clear intention to provide adequate compensation to the affected. The government had taken an in-principle decision to form a tribunal in order to provide compensation package as proposed by a high-power committee that studied the environmental impact of the Coke plant at Plachimada in Palakkad district.
The report, submitted to the state assembly on March 22, said that the Coca Cola plant had caused serious damage to the environment of the village leading to a loss to the tune of Rs 216.25 crore. It said the plant damaged the agriculture sector by giving hazardous waste as manure. The committee also recommended constitution of a separate tribunal to provide adequate compensation to the affected, citing the limits on its own mandate.
In an exhaustive note, the Industries secretary, T Balakrishnan, said that the formation of the tribunal would be against the interest of the industrial sector in the state and would create a negative image of Kerala. The compensation could be obtained from the company within the existing laws, he said, adding that the report would adversely affect the credibility and investment climate of the state.
The note also raised the issue of other factories that endanger environment through discharge of hazarodous waste, and said that if people those areas were to agitate for compensation it would create a lot of issues. He said usage of ground water by the Coca Cola plant was not the reason for the shortage of water in that area. It was because of the shortfall in rain during 1994–2004 period. The chemical effluents of the company had not made serious damage to agriculture and environment, as reported by the high-power committee, he added.
The Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages plant was closed down in March 2004, following a prolonged agitation by the locals and environmental activists. That was the first such instance in the company's history.
Meanwhile, S Faizy, the environmental expert of the high-power committee informed the chief minister that the comments of the Industries department were a deliberate attempt to help Coca Cola before the court.
The note has been submitted to the cabinet after the approval of Industries minister Elamaram Karim. In a seminar on May 25, T Balakrishnan had openly criticised the government's stand on Coca Cola issue in the presence of the Industries minister, saying the only gain from the closure of the Plachimada plant was the loss of 500 jobs. The state cabinet had taken it as a violation of the code of conduct of a civil servant, but has not initiated action against the senior IAS officer, limiting itself to conveying the government's displeasure on his speech.
The controversy also acquired a political undertones since these issues were part of the factional feud in the state unit of CPI(M). The faction lead by the state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan has taken a soft stand towards Coca Cola, and hence his support to the Industries secretary. But the faction led by the chief minister, by and large, approves the report of the high-power committee and is in favour of forming a tribunal. N K Premachandran, minister for water resources, said the government would initiate appropriate action based on the recommendations of the committee.