Criminal charges may be filed against Coca-Cola India

November 14th, 2007 - 2:17 am ICT by admin  
In a notice sent to Coca-Cola India last week, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) asked the company to show cause as to why a criminal case should not be filed against it for polluting the environment. The company has been given two weeks to respond.

The state government action comes in the wake of a longstanding demand that Coca-Cola must also be held criminally liable for the damages it has caused to the community in Plachimada, where it has a bottling plant.

Coca-Cola’s bottling plant in Plachimada, one of its largest in India, has been shut down since March 2004 as a result of community opposition to the plant. The community has accused the Coca-Cola bottling plant of creating severe water shortages and polluting the water and the soil - directly as a result of its operations in the area.

“We are encouraged by the action of the government to hold Coca-Cola criminally liable for the damages it has caused in Plachimada,” said R. Ajayan, convener of the Plachimada Solidarity Committee who was key in getting the government to take action. “We are confident that Coca-Cola will be prosecuted for the crimes it has committed in India.”

Coca-Cola India has dismissed the notice, describing it as “unwarranted and arbitrary.”

The company’s spokesperson, Mr. Ameer Shahul, has claimed that the plant was a “zero-discharge” plant during its operation and that all studies carried out in the last four years had found no traces of pollution.

The facts, however, suggest otherwise.

The primary reason that the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Plachimada remains shut down is because it is unable to obtain the “consent to operate” permit from the Kerala State Pollution Control Board because of widespread pollution found by the regulatory agency.

On August 19, 2005, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board ordered the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd. bottling plant in south India to “stop production of all kinds of products with immediate effect.” The Pollution Control Board noted that the company has yet to explain the large amounts of cadmium in its sludge, which is contaminating the groundwater, making it unfit for human consumption.

In addition, tests by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as well as Outlook magazine have both confirmed the pollution by Coca-Cola company in Plachimada.

In October 2003, the Central Pollution Control Board of India also confirmed high levels of heavy metals in Coca-Cola’s sludge, which the company was distributing to farmers as “fertilizer”.

Coca-Cola’s contention that the plant was a zero-discharge facility contradicts the government as well as independent studies.

“We are glad that the Coca-Cola fiasco in India is taking its natural course of finding the company criminally liable for the damages it has caused,” said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization.

“We also strongly feel that the Coca-Cola company should be further held criminally liable for the complete distortion of facts it is making today,” Srivastava said. (ANI)

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