The CPM-led Left Front government in Kerala shut
the Coca-Cola plant in Palakkad as it was damaging the environment.
Why is it not applying the same rules to Pepsico?
Two years ago, the
CPM, CPI and other Left parties in Kerala were clear about who was responsible
for the ground water depletion and contamination, and the rising temperatures
in Palakkad district. They blamed Coca-Cola, the multinational carbonated
drinks major and a perennial target of “anti-imperialism”
Communist? Kerala Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan
one knows how many borewells the Pepsico plant has. No one is
allowed to enter,’
says NP Jayan,
The Coca-Cola bottling
plant, situated in the Plachimada locality of the Perumatty village
panchayat in Palakkad, gained international attention after the Left
launched an agitation accusing it of large-scale extraction and pollution
of ground water. (See box) Coca-Cola caved in and shut the plant in
Which raises the
question: if the Coca-Cola plant was the main culprit behind the water
scarcity there, why is Palakkad district still facing acute water shortage?
Many blame the double standards of the CPM, which heads the Left Democratic
Front government in Kerala.
For some reason,
the CPM seems to be much more accommodative towards Coca-Cola’s
arch rival Pepsico. In addition to its cola plant, Pepsico bottles its
mineral water at Wise Park, an industrial area situated in Kanjikode
in the district.
“For the first
time, animals are looking for new sources of water as existing sources
are drying out,” says R. Bimal, a Range Officer at the Silent
Valley National Park. It is almost April, but the mercury has already
shot up to an unprecedented 44 degree Celsius. Ground water levels have
plunged and paddy cultivation is in disarray. Most water bodies have
The region was known
as the rice bowl of Kerala, but things began to change with the onset
of liberalisation in the early 1990s. A number of industries, all with
high requirement of fresh water, set up units here — Pepsico,
Coca-Cola, beer companies and scrap iron smelters (there are now 48
of these in the district).
“When it was
operational, the Coca-Cola factory consumed seven to 15 lakh litres
of ground water each day. Now, Pepsico is consuming about 15 to 25 lakh
litres of ground water per day in an area very close to Plachimada.
In addition, the Pepsi plant has the right to take about 1.75 lakh litres
of water from the Malampuzha irrigation dam on river Bharathapuzha every
day,” says Tony Kulavayalil, a Palakkad-based environmental activist.
The Pepsico office at Kanjikode near Palakkad refused to comment, but
Kerala Water Authority officials corroborated the figures.
Coke used seven to
15 lakh litres of water daily, while Pepsico uses 15-25 lakh litres
The previous ldf
government, headed by then Chief Minister EK Nayanar, gave a “single
window” clearance to both Coca-Cola and Pepsico to set up their
plants without a preliminary environmental impact assessment. No one
knows how many borewells are operational inside the Pepsico plant. “Not
even journalists are permitted to enter the Pepsico factory. Security
people roughed up photographers when they tried to take pictures of
the factory. They say they have only seven bore wells. However, we have
no checking mechanism in place. It’s a real wonder why the CPM
is mum on the dictatorial attitude of the factory,” said NP Jayan,
ruined Plachimada and its surroundings. But Pepsi is more guilty and
its unit at Kanjikode still functions under the patronage of the ldf
government. There may be other reasons also for the water woes of Palakkad.
But the soft drink giants, the half-a-dozen beer factories and the scrap-iron
smelting factories are responsible too,” says K. Sethumadhavan,
Pepsico also has
the backing of other constituents in the ruling Left coalition, like
the CPI and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP). In February, Kerala’s
Water Resources Minister NK Premachandran of the RSP ordered a study
to find out the groundwater level in all the development blocks in Kerala.
The Malampuzha development block, where Pepsico and the smelting units
are situated, is the only development block exempted from the study.
The state revenue
department, headed by a CPI member, sealed the Pepsi factory in mid-March
for arrears amounting to Rs 2 crore. But the factory reopened within
24 hours, even though the company paid only half the amount.
E. Suresh is the
president of Pudussery village panchayat, the site of the Pepsi plant.
He belongs to the CPM and says that accommodation with Pepsico is out
of question. “The panchayat is still fighting a number of cases
against Pepsi in various courts,” he says. He admits that the
panchayat stands no chance against Pepsico, which has hired top lawyers.
But he has no answer when asked why the state’s local administration
department, headed by CPM’s Paloli Mohammed Kutty, was not helping
them. He also can’t explain why there were no popular protests
in Kanjikode against Pepsico as had been the case in Plachimada against
factory was inside a thickly populated village. But Pepsi is located
in an industrial belt and it has arrived through the green channel.
So the government has a limited role in enforcing regulations on it.
But when it comes to the water exploitation, it is number one,”
says Sreevatsan, local secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions,
which is affiliated with the CPM.
“It is sad
to say that Pepsi is reaping profits in the same area while Coke has
almost left the scene. The progressive movements must introspect deeply,”
says M. Krishnan, leader of the Janata Dal Secular (Surendra Mohan faction)
and past president of Perumatti panchayat.