Criminal Coca-Cola against the people of Plachimada (Kerala)
Dear Mr Swaminathan and Mr Ajayan,
Thank you for sending me your letter on February 24. I note, however, that for several days prior to your sending it to me, you had already released it to the media and in various Internet forums. It would appear that your communication was therefore not designed to elicit a genuine answer from me, but rather to score political points. Nonetheless I am doing you the courtesy of taking your public charges in good faith and responding to them point by point.
You express your "shock and dismay" at my membership of the Advisory Board of Yatn, the Coca-Cola India Foundation and go on to "condemn [my] insensitivity and unconcern to align with the criminal Coca-Cola against the people of Plachimada." First of all, I should point out the difference between the Foundation and the company. I serve, alongside several renowned social activists and human rights leaders, under the chairmanship of the former Supreme Court Chief Justice and former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Justice J. S. Verma, on the advisory board of a purely philanthropic organization. The Foundation is financed by the Coca-Cola Company as part of its corporate social responsibility, which is a practice that I have encouraged around the world since my United Nations days, when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan launched the "Global Compact" to encourage corporations around the world to adhere to certain globally-accepted principles and practices. Far from "aligning against the people", the purpose of encouraging such a Foundation is precisely to ensure that the company looks beyond its commercial bottom-line and serves the people of our country.
I have been, and remain, strongly committed to the belief that in our liberalizing economy, private sector companies should not only maintain the highest employment and labour standards, but also take pro-active steps to benefit the communities in which they operate. My membership of the Foundation's Advisory Board aims at promoting such benefits through a number of concrete projects, particularly in the area of safe drinking water, which is in such short supply in our country.
You level a number of charges against the Coca-Cola company's operations at the Plachimada plant, notably relating to ground-water exploitation and pollution of groundwater through toxic waste from its plant. As I stressed, I do not represent the company in any way, but I am fully aware that such charges led to the plant ceasing operations in 2004. Needless to say, far from being "unconcerned", I enquired into the matter to satisfy myself that these allegations had been thoroughly examined by the competent authorities. I note that a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court ruled, in a judgement dated 7 August 2005, that the company was not guilty of unfairly exploiting the groundwater, and that indeed the groundwater in Plachimada continued to dry up after the company ceased operations, leading the Court to conclude that other factors, including a shortage of rainfall, were to blame. The Court based its conclusions on a number of detailed independent expert studies, including one that the Court itself had commissioned from the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM), Kozhikode, which is a part of the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and the Environment. I do not understand on what basis you are questioning the Kerala High Court's conclusions.
On the question of ground-water toxins and toxic sludge, I have seen reports from reputed governmental bodies, including the Kerala State Pollution Control Board and the Central Ground Water Board, New Delhi, refuting your charges. Once again, I am unable to understand the scientific basis for your continued charges against the company, and can only conclude that they are politically- motivated.
Finally, with regard to the discontinuation of the supply of drinking water by the company, I note that this supply in fact continued till December 2007, almost four years after the plant's forced closure, but that it was not practical for the company to continue beyond that date in view of its lack of operations in the area. The Court order required it to supply drinking water to the community only so long as it continued operations there. Nonetheless, the Yatn Foundation intends to give thought to developing a philanthropic project in Kerala in the area of drinking water, an issue to which I have personally attached the highest importance in my interventions on the Advisory Board.
Let me add, in conclusion, and with a heavy heart, how much I deplore both the content and tone of your letter. Since leaving the United Nations, I have been doing my best to promote investment into Kerala, which alone can generate the employment that is so desperately needed by our people. As a Keralite, I am ashamed that our people have to find work elsewhere in India and in the Gulf because the over-politicized atmosphere in Kerala discourages companies from investing in our state. The only result of your agitation over the Plachimada plant has been to close down an investment worth over Rs 80 crores in our state, which provided direct employment to 400 people and indirect employment to more than 5000 persons, including transporters, construction workers, and distributors. While all these people are now out of a job, no one has benefited from your continued protests. Instead, the image of Kerala as a place in which it is unwise for businesses to invest has been reinforced.
It is tragic that actions such as yours ensure that politics overrides the genuine needs of the people. If you are truly concerned about the well-being of the people of Plachimada, I would urge you instead to attempt to do what you can to persuade businesses like Coca-Cola to invest in Kerala and provide employment and drinking water to the people of our state. I would be pleased to join you in such an endeavour.
And instead of being dismayed by my service in such a Foundation, I urge you to applaud whatever help the other Advisory Board members and I can provide to steer the Foundation's resources towards helping people on issues like safe drinking water, energy resources, waste management, and the development of backward areas.
Yours sincerely, Shashi Tharoor
14 February 2009
To Shashi Tharoor,
You are aware that Coca Cola plant at Plachimada, Palakkad in your native State of Kerala has been shut down since 2004 as they failed to get the requisite licenses from the Kerala Pollution Control Board and the Perumatty Panchayat.
The primary reasons for this are:
Coca Cola polluted the ground water with deadly toxic and carcinogenic cadmium and lead which Coca Cola does not list under raw materials and refuse to provide an explanation for their presence Coca Cola distributed and spread around these deadly toxic and carcinogenic cadmium and lead through their waste sludge and slurry under the guise that these are good soil nutrients Coca Cola did not supply piped water to the affected families as ordered by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Waste Coca Cola, as the single most largest extractor of ground water extracting at the highest rate, largest transporter of water to the outside through softdrinks, a non-essential luxury good, contributed the largest to the depletion of ground water
The anti Coca Cola struggle launched in 2002 in Plachimada by primarily the Adivasis and Dalits, is the longest popular struggle in the history of Kerala supported by the widest sections of the people of Kerala and of all political hues.
You may be aware that protests have been going on elsewhere in the country against many other Coca Cola plants as in Mehdi Ganj and Kala Dera for similar destruction of environment, water and livelihoods. You may also be aware about the allegations against Coca Cola for getting its own workers assassinated in Columbia through the drug mafia which was to be enquired into by ILO. Coca Cola products were also indicted by Centre for Science & Environment, New Delhi, for producing and selling bottled water and softdrinks with pesticide and other contaminants. Latest in the series is the $7.59 million penalty that Coca Cola agreed to pay in February 2009 to the City of American Canyon in Napa County, USA, for violations in wastewater treatment permit since 2005 till May 2008 that resulted in high concentrations of contaminants that interfered with the City's wastewater treatment process and posed an environmental hazard.
A former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, author, writer-columnist and an advisor to several institutions and reportedly nurturing political ambition, it is with shock and dismay that we, in your native Kerala, have to see you as a Member of the Advisory Board of Coca-Cola India Foundation. We condemn your insensitivity and unconcern to align with the criminal Coca-Cola against the people of PLACHIMADA..
VELUR SWAMINATHAN. SECRETARY
Plachimada Adivasis Samrakshana Sangham
Plachimada Samara Aikyadhardya Samithy
R.Ajayan Convener Plachimada Solidarity Committee Ph:- Res 0471-2730464 Mob- 09847142513 Res Add - Neerajam,