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Published October 16, 2007 02:39 PM

Criminal Charges Against Coca-Cola Likely in India

Thiruvananthapuram, India - The state government of Kerala has initiated the process of filing criminal charges against the Coca-Cola company for pollution.

In a notice to the Coca-Cola company on Friday, October 12, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board has asked the company to show cause as to why a criminal case should not be filed against it for polluting the environment. The Coca-Cola company has two weeks to respond. The action by the state government comes directly as a result of a longstanding demand of the campaign that the Coca-Cola company must also be held criminally liable for the damages it has caused in the community of Plachimada in India.

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.” In typical fashion, the Coca-Cola company has dismissed the notice, describing it as “unwarranted and arbitrary.”

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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 continued.

For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org

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