Coca-Cola's Role in Suspicious Death in India to be Investigated

Court Orders Inquiry into Death of Community Leader who Opposed Coca-Cola

For Immediate Release
February 1, 2006

T. Fatimson, Campaign For Right to Livelihood and Food Security +91 452 2525462, +91 98421 65146 (India)
Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center + 1 415 336 7584 (US)

San Francisco (February 1, 2006): The India Resource Center is deeply alarmed to learn that the Coca-Cola company in India is now the subject of a police inquiry into the suspicious death of community leader, Mr. V. Kamsan, who had publicly opposed Coca-Cola's proposed operations.

On January 30, 2006, Justice P. Murugesan of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court directed the Superintendent of Police to register a case into the suspicious death of Mr. Kamsan and directed the Crime Branch Criminal Investigation Department to conduct an investigation. The court action came as a result of a petition filed by Mr. Kamsan's wife, Mrs. Santhanamary.

Mr. V. Kamsan was the chairman of the Gangaikondan panchayat (village council) and he died under suspicious circumstances on August 30, 2005.

Mr. Kamsan had opposed the proposed Coca-Cola bottling plant by the South India Bottling Company Private Limited - a Coca-Cola franchisee - which was setting up a soft-drinks unit in Gangaikondan village in southern Tamil Nadu.

On August 23, 2005, Mr. Kamsan convened a meeting of the Gangaikondan village council which passed a resolution against the proposed Coca-Cola plant, stating, "As the unit will cause environmental and health hazards besides triggering acute drinking water scarcity, the Government should immediately cancel the permission given to the company, which is planning to prepare a range of soft drinks here."

However, within 12 hours, Mr. Kamsan issued a prepared statement to the Hindu newspaper, one of India's leading English dailes, completely contradicting the resolution passed earlier in the day. When asked by the Hindu about issuing the "conflicting statement", Mr. Kamsan said: "I am under immense pressure from the public, the police and some other quarters. So I have issued this statement."

On that same evening, according to Mrs. Santhanamary's petition, Coca-Cola company officials "coerced" her husband into accompanying them, detained him and forced him to drink alcohol, even though Mr. Kamsan was suffering from jaundice. Mr. Kamsan was brought back home by Coca-Cola company officials on August 28 in very serious condition, and according to the petition, he admitted that the Coca-Cola company authorities had forced him to drink liquor and drop the village council resolution. He died from jaundice on August 30, 2005.

There is strong community opposition to the proposed Coca-Cola bottling plant in Gangaikondan, and foul play was suspected by many community members in Mr. Kamsan's sudden disappearance and death, as well as the timing between his public opposition to the plant and his death.

Last week, on January 27, 2006, the Gangaikondan village council once again passed a resolution asking the state government to cancel the license of the proposed facility "as the effluents discharged from the plant will pollute the environment, groundwater and soil."

"The Coca-Cola company in India talks a lot about having good community relations, rainwater harvesting, transparency and accountability but the ground reality is that the company is engaged in all sorts of dubious activities in an attempt to intimidate local communities, particularly where there is significant local opposition to its operations," said T. Fatimson of the Campaign for Right to Livelihood and Food Security, one of the active groups working in Gangaikondan to oppose the bottling plant.

"No company, however large, is above the law, and we expect a thorough police investigation into the suspicious circumstances surrounding Mr. Kamsan's death," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization. "The investigation must ensure that there is no interference from Coca-Cola company authorities."

For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org


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