Coca-Cola India unit asked to pay $47 million damages

NEW DELHI, March 23 (BestGrowthStock) – The Indian unit of
Coca-Cola Co (KO.N: ) has been asked to pay $47 million
compensation for causing environmental damage at its bottling
plant in the southern Indian state of Kerala, state officials
said on Tuesday.

A state government panel, in a report late on Monday, said
Coca-Cola’s subsidiary, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd
(HCBPL), was responsible for depleting groundwater and dumping
toxic waste around its Palakkad plant between 1999 and 2004.

Protests by farmers, complaining against pollution, forced
HCBPL to close down the unit in 2005. The company operates 52
bottling plants in India.

The conflict between industry and farmers reflects a wider
battle in India, where efforts to modernise the densely
populated country have often met with protests from villagers
who make up more than half of the country’s 1.1 billion plus
population.

Coca-Cola said in a statement late on Monday that HCBPL was
not responsible for causing pollution in Palakkad.

“It is unfortunate 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,” the
statement said.

A final decision on the compensation will be taken by the
state government.

But news of the committee’s findings in Kerala spread to at
least two states where local villagers are protesting against
Coca-Cola, alleging similar depletion of water and
contamination.

“The water level in and around the bottling plant has gone
down by at least 40-50 feet,” said Nandalal Master, a local
leader, spearheading a movement against Coca-Cola outside
Varanasi in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

“We are organising huge protests and planning to move court
and seeking more support of people,” Master said by telephone.

Environmentalists say similar protests against another
Coca-Cola bottling plant were being planned in Rajasthan, in
northwestern India.

“This decision will strengthen the resolve of people
against similar plants in other states and we foresee more
protests,” said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, a
pro-farmer campaign organisation.

Farmers’ protests in India have forced cancellation of
special economic zones and other projects in four other states.
A total of 230 tax-free export zones have already been put on
hold.

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(Reporting by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and
Alex Richardson)
([email protected]; Reuters Messaging:
[email protected], +91-11-41781003))

Coca-Cola India unit asked to pay $47 million damages