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Struggle against Coca Cola in Kerala


Coca-cola Company in Plachimada, Kerala has devastated the Livelihood Resources of the Tribals, Dalit Landless, Small and Marginal Farmers of the State of Kerala.

In India, for the last five months, the Tribals and the Dalits in Kerala are fighting against the Plant of Coca Cola for appropriating the ground water resources and polluting the livelihood resources and thereby affecting the Tribals, Dalits, small and marginal farmers nearby the plant. The struggle has been spearheaded by Anti Coca Cola People’s Struggle Committee consisting of several peoples organisations including Janakeeya Cheruthunilpu Vedi (JCV) a constituent organisation of All India Peoples Resistance Forum (AIPRF), Adivasi Struggle Committee etc.

Background:

The struggle against the Plachimada Plant of Coca Cola was launched on 22 April 2002 with a symbolic blockade and an ongoing continuous picketing/dharna by mainly the Adivasis, particularly by women and children, belonging to the Eravalar and Malasar communities classified by the government as Primitive Tribes.

The Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd established this unit in 1998-99 in a 40-acre plot (previously multi-cropped paddy lands) at Plachimada of Perumatty Panchayat in Chittur Taluk of Palakkad District, Kerala about 5 kms west of the Tamilnadu border of Pollachi in Coimbatore District and 30 kms east of Palakkad on the Palakkad-Meenakshipuram-Pollachi Road. About 70 permanent workers and 150- 250 casual labourers are employed in the factory.

From this plant, every day 85 lorry/truck loads of beverage products each load containing 550-600 cases and each case containing 24 bottles with 300 ml capacity leave the factory premises. In its 17-hectare land, more than 65 bore-wells were sunk to extract the ground water for the production of Coke and Maza. Every day 15 million litres of ground water is extracted by Coca Cola at free of cost. Bottle washing involves the using of chemicals and the effluents are released without treatment contaminating the ground water creating a water crisis for the Tribals, Dalits and the farmers. As the livelihood resources are affected, the employment is also affected pushing them further to the vicinity of the poverty situation. Now, we could imagine the role of Government whether it would be on the side of the people or giving protection to Coca Cola. The police is giving protection to Coca Cola and the people waging struggle especially women and children are behind the bars. That is today’s democracy.

The site is located a few metres away from the main irrigation canal from the Moolathara barrage. The site is located about three kms away from the Meenkara dam reservoir, a few hundred meters west of Kambalathara and Vengalakkayam storage reservoirs and two kms away from the main Chitturpuzha (river).

Bottle washing that involves the use of chemicals, the sludge from the plant mainly from the products brought to the factory site after the expiry date have expired etc are carried out. While earlier the foul smelling dry sedimented slurry waste was “sold” as fertilizer to the unsuspecting farmers which was later given “free” and now with protests and objections surreptitiously dumped on the way side and on lands at night even going beyond the state boundary into the villages of adjoining Pollachi Taluk of Coimbatore District of Tamilnadu. The ground water and hence water from the open wells have rapidly depleted in this perennially rich paddy growing belt (paddy is abandoned now with the mostly landless Adivasis loosing their jobs also). The water turns turbid or milky on boiling and is unfit for drinking, bathing and washing clothes etc. Already over 1000 families have been affected in the surrounding villages within a radius of five kms, of which a quarter are Adivasis and the rest Dalits and other non-Adivasis. The villages severely affected are the ‘colonies’ of Adivasis and Dalits such as Plachimada, Vijayanagaram, Veloor and Madhavan Nair colonies in the Perumatty Panchayat and the Rajeev Nagar and Thodichipathy colonies in the Pattanamchery Panchayat facing acute water shortage and contaminated water.

Coca Cola is one of the sponsors of the World Summit on Sustainable Development – Global Peoples Forum. We can understand the nature UN Summit which is organised with an intention to save the Earth from environmental disaster and pave the way for sustainable development, when the culprits who destroy the livelihood resources of the marginalized people axing their sustainable development, themselves like Coke MNCs are the sponsors.

Mass Arrests of Adivasis
Police Crack Down Begins

On the 9 June 2002, the agitation against the Coca Cola Plant at Plachimada in Palakkad District, Kerala, India entered the 49th day. Dharna and picketing were going on without respite in front the Coca Plant by the Eravalar and Malasar who are Adivasis officially classified as Primitive Tribes. In the evening, a protest rally took place. This time the police had refused permission to use the mike. The peaceful protesters symbolically dumped the extremely foul smelling dry sedimented slurry waste that Coca Cola had been dumping in the surrounding villages surreptitiously in the fields, in front of the Coca Cola Plant. The police officials were continuously attempting to provoke the protesters using abusive language. A few metres away, a meeting began which was to be addressed by a number of activists from across Kerala and adjacent parts of Tamilnadu.

As the meeting progressed, one of the protesters was beaten in front of the plant without any provocation whatsoever. When the police was questioned, they announced that they were arresting the protesters. About 130 protesters were arrested of whom 30 were women and 9 were children, mostly babies, at around 5 pm and taken to the Chittoor Police Station. Blouses of 5 Adivasi women were torn and some senior officials were particularly keen to abuse and threaten the protesters with further physical attack. Incidentally the arrested included all those who had come to participate in the struggle from elsewhere to extend their solidarity which included environmental activists, struggle groups fighting industrial pollution elsewhere in the state as Phillip Morris Carbon Plant, activists of National Alliance of Peoples Movement, National Front for Tribal Self Rule, All India Coordinating Forum of Adivasis/ Indigenous Peoples, All India Students Association, office bearers of Peoples’ Union For Civil Liberties of Kerala (as well as PUCL activists from Tamilnadu), etc.

All Party Meet Opposes the Anti Coca Cola Struggle

Earlier and very significantly, on the previous day (8 June 2002) the hurriedly cobbled up from amongst the Coca Cola workers who are contract and daily wage labourers under the banner of “Thozhil Samrakshana Samithy” (Job Protection Committee) had organized an all party protest meeting in Plachimada attended prominently by the local leaders of Janatha Dal (Perumatty Panchayat where Plachimada village is located is the only Panchayat in the State controlled by Janatha Dal), CPI (M) and BJP. This meeting was highly provocative and threatened the anti Coca Cola protesters with violence. This is also to be connected to the provocative and brutal behaviour as well as the mass arrests by the police against the peaceful protest and constitute a turning point in the struggle for the rights of Adivasis for survival and resources for life – water.

Earlier on 28 May 2002, 11 activists were arrested at nearby Vandithavalam when they were campaigning there. Another 9 were also arrested from amongst the protesters in front of the plant. Coca Cola had approached the high court seeking protection to their property. Any way ever since the launch of the struggle there has been a huge police contingent have been stationed with the Coca Cola plant extending various facilities to protect the plant. The struggle committee filed a counter and the high court ordered the police to protect the protesters. As the message of the struggle has spread in the surrounding areas, there has been spontaneous blackening or damage of Coca Cola hoardings in various parts of Chittoor taluk.

A massive rally demanding the Closure of the Plant

Coca Cola Virudha Samara Samithy (Anti Coca Cola Struggle Committee) organized a mass rally and public meeting at Plachimada on 4 August 2002, which marks the 105th day of the continuous ongoing struggle against the Coca Cola monster that began in 22 April 2002. About 300 people have been arrested until date in this peaceful democratic struggle on false cases despite vicious attempts of the Coca Cola Company to thwart the struggle by various means. More than a 1000 people, mostly Adivasis belonging to the Eravalar and Malasar Communities categorized as primitive tribes by the government participated. Adivasis from Wayanad, Kannur and Nelliampathy also participated. Led by the children and women, the rally commenced at Pallimukku in Vandithavalam about 6 kms away from Plachimada in the evening about 3.30 p.m braving the welcome intermittent drizzle.

The spirited march thundered along the route, encouraged by large sections of the public all along the route. The slogans that reverberated in this picturesque region surrounded by hills and rivers reflected the determination of the people to reassert the rights to survival – water in this instance – not only for them but also for future generations. The government and political parties wereo utrightly condemned for their total sell out to Coca Cola and the MNCs, global capital and imperialism in general. A massive police force was conspicuously and menacingly deployed all along the route and especially the Coca Cola factory where they had provided a formidable protecting ring. Veloor Swaminathan, an Adivasi leader and convenor of the Samara Samithy presided over the public meeting. He spoke on the experience of the struggle, which has entered the 105th day where it was the Adivasis, the agricultural labourers, and other oppressed who had all along been active in the forefront of the struggle.

He exhorted other sections of the population of the area who have been actively supporting the struggle as well as the silent supporters to come out now for it is time to throwout Coca Cola from the place. He appealed to the exploited workers of Coca Cola factory, who are overwhelmingly casual labourers to realize the historical task of the struggle for their long-term benefits and that of the society, to now join the struggle.

The Chairperson Venugopal Vilayodi provided the background to the struggle, the issues and the manner in which the oppressed people here have been pushed to a struggle by Coca Cola Company – a do or die struggle – as the very livelihood is threatened. Recalling that on 22 April 22, the struggle was inaugurated by the Ms. C.K Janu, the “black pearl” of Kerala and the leader who had forced the government of Kerala to agree to the demands of Adivasis of the state for land rights and autonomy long denied to them and which is attempted to be violated by the government, various economic interest groups and political parties against which she and her comrades are fighting.

He reminded that the Coca Cola has provided a meagre employment to some 300 who are casual labourers denied labour rights with a handful who are regular employees. He reminded the workers that with the closing down of the factory, their employment is not threatened but the struggle has also called for the conversion of the factory premises into an employment generating ecologically safe production centres as handloom which can provide jobs to thousands. This is the responsibility of the government. The struggle has also exposed all the political parties, from the right to the left, that behind the veil of pious rhetoric, they have all turned to be petty brokers for the Coca Company. But then this is not an isolated phenomenon but a widespread phenomenon all over the country with globalisation and opening up for predatory capital that destroys people and livelihood resources.

G.N Saibaba, General Secretary of All India Peoples’ Resistance Forum (AIPRF) that is a forum of movements all over the country involved in intense resistance for the rights of the oppressed, in his inaugural address praised the people of Plachimada and surrounding villages for their unflinching thirst for freedom from neo-colonialism and imperialism.He went on to remind that Coca Cola wasindeed foolish to think that they can get away with the loot, destroying the life sustaining water from this backward area. The news of this struggle in this remote corner tucked away amidst the greenery, the mountains and rivers which is already threatened to become a catastrophic calamity of transforming into a desert, has travelled wide. He reminded that similar valiant struggles are going on against the MNCs and their arrogant plunder all over the country backed by imperialist and fascist forces. In the long run, he reminded, that truth and justice will prevail and victory shall belong to the oppressed masses.

In similar vein, all other speakers reiterated their immense appreciation and saluted the valiant and inspiring struggle promising to unite the struggles against predatory capital, imperialism and fascism, which in effect are the forces behind companies, like Coca Cola. The speakers also reminded that this is not the only struggle against Coca Cola. Coca Cola has paid scant regard to environment or human rights -Sathupalli of Andhra, Thane district of Maharashtra and elsewhere. Coca Cola factories have been attacked and destroyed such as in Andhra and Nepal. They have polluted and destroyed aquifers all over the world against which people have protested. They have adopted criminal means against their own workers and the local inhabitants.

The meeting was addressed by leaders of various movements such as A.Bhoomaiah (Telangana Jana Sabha of Andhra Pradesh), Kumar (AIPRF, Karnataka), C.R Neelakantan Namboothiri (writer and activist with Pooyankutty Samrakshana Samithy and National Alliance of Peoples Movements, Eranakulam, Kerala), Senkottaiyan (Dalit Liberation Party, Tamilnadu), Thomas Mathew (NAPM, Kerala), M.S Selvaraj (Vyavasayikal Thozhilalar Munnetra Sangam, Nilgiris, Tamilnadu), Advocate
Shina (Janakeeya Cheruthunilpu Vedi, Kerala) Nagapandi and Leelavathi (Palanimalai Adivasikal Viduthalai Iyakkam, Kodaikanal, Tamilnadu), Gopalakrishnan, (People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Coimbatore, Tamilnadu) and Jaayachandran (Tamilnadu Green Movement) amongst others besides Shivan Kutty and C. Bhanu from the Samara Samithy. The meeting ended with a glorious tribute to the people in struggle, especially the women and with renewed determination to expand the struggle moving to the phase of the closure of the Coca Cola factory at Plachimada.

This is not merely a struggle against Coca Cola but all capital that is predatory destroying lives, resources and environment.
Demands:
1. Immediate closure of the Coca-Cola Factory.
2. Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd be held fully responsible and liable for the destruction of livelihood resources of the people and the environment.
3. Initiate criminal action against Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd and made accountable for the ecocide with responsibility to restore the environment.
4. Compensation to all those adversely affected by the Coca-Cola Unit.
5. Withdraw the false cases filed against the protesters and their supporters.
6. Throw out Coca Cola from India.

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