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PUCL, August 2003

Urgent action alert -- Palakkad, Kerala

Activists arrested. Attempt by the police and government to falsely implicate them to crush the struggle

PUCL Kerala activists arrested

13 activists were arrested on 30 August 2003 at Palakkad when they were holding a peaceful demonstration in front of the Kerala Ground Water Board. The demonstration was organised by the People's Union for Civil Liberties - Kerala to voice their protest against the inefficiency of the Board in tackling the ground water problems created by Coca Cola Plachimada unit despite daily protests since 22 April 2002 by primarily the Adivasis who are the worst affected.

Various government departments had also confirmed the existance of the problems - all related to the ground water.

Amongst the arrested were Venugopal Vilayodi, the General Secretary of PUCL-Kerala and Arumugham Pathichira both of whom are also key activists and leaders of the Coca-Cola Virudha Janakeeya Samara Samithy (Anti Coca Cola Peoples Struggle Committee) who has been spearheading this long drawn out struggle.

The arrested have been remanded for 5 days and falsely accused of attempting to destroy the office etc in an attempt to falsely and deliberately create an image of being 'extremist' or 'terrorist'. The Revenue Divisional Officer, the DySP and other Senior Police officials were involved in the swoop to arrest the peaceful slogan shouting protesters. It may be recalled that a few days earlier, on 28 August 2003, the Coca Cola godown at Kochi (more than 200 kms away from Plachimada) was set on fire which has been widely publicised by the police and the media as possibly the handiwork of 'extremists'.

The difference
There have been numerous arrests (over 300 arrests made at different times) times in the past over 480 days of continuous non-stop agitations. Ever since the Coca Cola Company announced that the struggle was 'politically motivated' it was clear that the struggle was planned to be crushed under the garb of fighting 'extremism' and 'terrorism'.

It is noteworthy that

  • this is a democratic struggle od the people
  • this struggle has been peaceful without any incident of any violence (though there has been false cases foised against the agitators from time to time), despite repeated police provocation to incite violence, despite instigation and threats from the hirelings and goondas of Coca Cola management.
  • this struggle has been supported by the widest possible sections from across the state and other parts of the country - Gandhians, the radical left, the left, the socialists and democrats. There has been active support from numerous writers, poets, academics, scientists, engineers, health personnel and others. A large number of orgainsations have actively participated or supported the struggle.

Yet this time there was a difference
The Coca Cola company had clearly contaminated the ground water, contaminated the land with carcinogens, drained the acquifers, sold or donated toxic wastes as fertilsers, gave more pesticides to drink in their drinks and lied at every step. They have been cornered and exposed. YET they continue to function freely !!

The manner in which the present arrests have been made, the manner in which the police have twisted their report to point out a finger to them as 'extremist' now after all this, indicates the unfolding collusion of the state government to put down the struggle by strong arm tactics.

It is indicative that the Congress led United Democratic Front of A.K Antony is all set to extend the collusion with Coca Cola by not only delaying any action against the company despite the piling up of official documents which indict the company on numerous counts, but also in building up a George Bush style 'extremism' bogey as the core of this democratic struggle. This, we fear, is designed to unleash violence and terror against the peaceful protesters - the Adivasis and others - to protect Coca Cola !!!

Background
1999: Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Ltd starts the Plachimade Unit
22 April 2002: Struggle launched against Coca Cola for the closure of the factory.

7 April 2003:
Perumatty Panchayat revoks the Coke factory's licence.

25 July 2003: BBC Radio announces that the samples of water and wastes sold by Coke as soil conditioner (but used by local farmers as fertiliser) contained dangerous levels of heavy metals (carcinogenice) such as cadmium and lead confirmed after testing in the laboratory at University of Exeter.

6 August 2003: The Kerala State Pollution Control Board confirms that Coke's bottling plant at Plachimada had indeed been polluting the groundwater and agricultural land in and around its plant and that the existence of carcinogenic contaminants in the waste was confirmed. The Board also instructs the company not to let the sludge out of the factory premises and to stop distribution of the sludge as manure even within the factory premises. The Public Health Department had confirmed that the ground water around the plant in not 'potable'. The Kerala Ground Water Board had confirmed the depletion of the ground water.

What you Can Do?
1. Send urgent protest telegrams/fax messages/letters against the arrest, demand their unconditional release and withdrawal of false cases, demanding immediate criminal action against the Coca Cola, closure of the plant, compensation for the destruction of the lives and basic resources
particularly water and restoration of the ecology.

Please send protest telegrams/fax messages. some relevant addresses are given below.

Mr.A.K.Antony
Chief Minister
Government of Kerala
Address Office : Room No:141, IIIrd Floor, North Block, Secretariat, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India
Tel: +91-471-2333812, 2332184, 2333682, 2518666, 2512040
Fax: +91-471-2333489.
Email: chiefminister@kerala.gov.in

Residence: Cliff House, Nanthencode, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India 695 003 Tel: +91-471-2314853, 2317051,

Principal Secretary to Chief Minister
Gopalakrishna Pillai
Email: prinsecy2cm@kerala.gov.in
Tel: +91-471-2333720 (O); 2726725 (R)

Chief Secretary
Email: chiefsecy@kerala.gov.in

2. Share this information with all those concerned about survival rights, human rights, environmental rights and the predatory nature of globalisation and multi-national companies.

3. Issue press releases condemning the arrests demanding the immediate closure of the Plachimada plant of Coca Cola.

4. Organise protests against Coca-Cola, a symbol of giant global predator

JOIN AND SPREAD THE STRUGGLE AGAINST COCA COLA

Yours in struggle

Veloor Swaminathan
Convenor
Coca-Cola Virudha Janakeeya Samara Samithy (Anti Coca Cola Peoples Struggle Committee)
Plachimada, Kannimari P.O
Palakkad District, Kerala
India 678 534

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