State water resources minister NK Premachandran has taken on Pepsicos environmental offences on two counts. One, Pepsico factory has been consuming water beyond its permit. Two, chemical effluent and solid waste from the factory have been polluting groundwater in Kanjikode. The effluent contamination from the factory has been higher than permitted levels, Premachandran told state assembly on Thursday, in reply to a question.
The water resources minister did not, however, clarify if the state government intended to take action against Pepsico factory in Palakkad. A meeting of the state Cabinet on Wednesday evening entrusted law department to set up a tribunal to recover Rs 196 crore from Coca-Cola as compensation for environmental damage caused by its bottling plant at Plachimada in Palakkad district. Following public ire, Coca-Cola had to closed down the unit in 2004. A 14-member panel, headed by K Jayakumar, additional chief secretary (in charge of water resources), which studied the issue, had recommended that Coca-Cola should pay Rs 84 crore in compensation for agriculture losses, Rs 20 crore for livelihood losses, Rs 30 crore for health losses and Rs 62 crore for eco-restoration.
Coke officials have expressed protest at the states position. We disagree with the recommendations of the high-powered committee and the proposed follow-up action, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited (HCCB) spokesperson said, in a statement, here. Numerous scientific studies by independent experts and investigations by government of Kerala itself have shown that HCCB is not the cause of watershed issues, says the company statement, adding that the committee was constituted with a pre-determined view.
A review of Cokes Plachimada factory operations in 2000 to 2004 period, catapulted to debating fora after state additional chief secretary (in charge of Industry) T Balakrishnan, publicly expressed regret that a global brand like Coca-Cola was forced to close operations in Kerala.
Undeterred by the political furore over this opinion, the senior bureaucrat also suggested to the state Cabinet that it should try to settle the issue amicably so that the company could resume operations in the Plachimada factory.
Penal measures could send wrong signals to potential investors, he pleaded, with the tacit support of state industry minister Elamaram Karim. State Cabinet turned down this report. Pepsico is yet to react to the states allegations.