State Committee in India: Coca-Cola Should Pay At Least $47 Million in Environmental Damages
By Jeremiah McWilliams
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
March 23, 2010

A committee established by the state government of Kerala in India has recommended that Coca-Cola be held liable for approximately $47 million for alleged mismanagement of water resources at the company's bottling operations in the village of Plachimada.

Plachimada was the site of vociferous protests challenging Coca-Cola's use of water. The Coca-Cola bottling plant in Plachimada has been closed since 2004, but reverberations from the strife there continue to surface. Activists have demanded compensation from Coca-Cola for years.

The committee, whose recommendations are not legally binding, said there was "compelling evidence" that Coca-Cola's bottler had depleted water resources and contaminated the water and soil. It called on the state government to implement the recommendations.

Coca-Cola strongly disputed the recommendations, maintaining that there has not been a ruling that indicates a causal relationship between the bottling operations and water depletion in Plachimada. The company admits that it did not state its case effectively among Plachimada residents earlier this decade. But it said its bottling operations drew from a deeper aquifer than the community typically used.

"Any government committee or panel reviewing claims should first determine through a process of law whether any damage was caused to the residents," bottler Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages said in a statement. "And second, if such damage was caused, who was responsible. ... Based on scientific evaluation, our Palakkad plant operations have not been shown to be the cause of local watershed issues."

"It is unfortunate," the bottler said, "that the committee in Kerala was appointed on the unproven assumption that damage was caused, and that it was caused by Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages."

In an interview with the AJC earlier this year, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent said the company had reduced its water consumption in India, put solid local management in place and is working closely with Indian governments. It has started several hundred water projects in India, he said.

"We can again be part of the solutions," he said.

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