Tag Archives: Kerala

Compensation for endosulfan victims, State to move court

NewIndPress.com, October 5, 2006
sainaba.jpg
Eight-month-old Sainaba suffers from hydocephalus. A minimum of a dozen Kasaragod villages have thousands of poor villagers of all age groups suffering from various incurable ailments as a result of endosulfan spraying on cashew plantations
T’PURAM: The State Government has decided to approach the court demanding compensation for the victims of Endosulfan, an organochlorine pesticide used by the Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK) on its 4,500-acre cashew plantation in Kasargod.
Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan, during the post-cabinet briefing here on Wednesday, said that legal experts would be consulted before the government goes ahead with the Bhopal-model litigation.
The Madhya Pradesh Government had earlier successfully, though belatedly, secured compensation for nearly 4,000 victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy from Union Carbide India.
Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan was in the forefront of the struggle against the use of Endosulfan in the cashew farms of Kasargod.
The aerial spraying of Endosulfan by PCK on its estates is held up as the cause for a number of cancer deaths and other congenital neurological diseases in the villages near the cashew plantations. Endosulfan is banned in Singapore, Denmark, Holland and Sweden.
LOTTERY SCHEME: It has been decided to issue a special lottery and use the money generated to replenish the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund.
The Chief Minister said that the Rs 10-crore left in the CM’s Relief Fund was almost over after the Rs 50,000 compensation given to the 549 families of farmers who committed suicide and 135 victims of Endosulfan poisoning.
From Farmedia.org, Bulletin 14
Bovikkana is in Muliyar Panchayath (Kasaragod Taluk and same district). A local sports and Arts Club, Punchiri has conducted a survey of 40 houses in the village. There are about 156 persons living in these houses. Out of these 39 were found to be seriously ill.
Disorder / # of cases
Swelling in Chest 2
Mentally Retarded 8
Persons with Mental Retardation & Born handicapped 6
Psoriasis 2
Psychiatry 3
Gynaec problems 6
Goiter 1
Problem in Oral region 1
Sterility 5
Hydrocephalus 1
Born Handicapped 4
Total 39
Mr. K.B. Mohammad, Club President, says, “There will be hundreds of such cases in and around Bovikkana. But you need to conduct an in-depth, house-to-house survey to bring this to light. Ours was a pilot survey. We selected only some areas that is very close to the cashew plantations.” In fact in some of these areas, cashew tree population is extremely less (there are more houses than cashew trees), and the human dwellings are so close to the plantation. Such areas should have been no-spray zones. There are 8 schools in the vicinity of Plantation Corporation of Kerala’s cashew plantation. No survey has been done here. The State Government�s health department has to conduct a medical survey by multi-disciplinary team immediately.
Rajapuram is in Hosdurg Taluk of Kasaragod District. PCK has 248 hectares of cashew plantation in the village. Here, in the houses very close to plantations (25 to 200 metres), in the last three years, 10 persons have died of cancer. Age group of the dead is 18 to 78. Soyal, who was a student at the seminary, Kottayam is the youngest (18) to die on 14th May 1999. A PCK labourer, Annamma (39), wife of Jose Karuplakal, who had been working with PCK since two decades, breathed her last on July 7, 1999, due to Cancer. Chedikund John (50) and his elder brother Maththayi (60) are among the other cancer victims of this area. This may only be a tip of the iceberg. Reports are coming forward from villages like Nettanige, Karadka etc., about different kinds of diseases. If the available information is any indication, a minimum of a dozen Kasaragod villages will have thousands of poor villagers of all age groups suffering from various incurable ailments – without knowing its cause and being helpless about it!
sabeena.jpg
Sabeena has a big swelling under her left armpit which every now again causes her pain

Chemical plant burns down – no one is responsible

On 6 July, 2004, a little after 2 a.m., residents living downwind of the Hindustan Insecticides Ltd (HIL) pesticide factory in Eloor, Kerala, were alerted to a fire in the factory’s endosulphan plant. Based on varying accounts, the fire raged for between three and four hours and gutted most of the five-storey endosulphan plant.

Twelve fire tenders, including units from Fertilisers & Chemicals Travancore (FACT), the Indian Navy, the State Fire Department and Kochin Refineries, were deployed and the fire was brought under control using large amounts of water. A westerly breeze carried the thick grey smoke plume over at least 250 dwelling units in Pallipuramchal and all the way across the river to the Varapuzha panchayat. Smoky conditions prevailed in Varapuzha as late as 7 a.m., well after the fire was put out.

Neither HIL nor the district authorities initiated any off-site emergency response procedures. HIL also had no onsite emergency response, and fire control did not begin until the FACT fire tender arrived at 2.35 a.m. As will be outlined in the report below, Hindustan Insecticides Ltd is guilty of negligence on several counts. The Eloor Police has, however, registered a simple case of “fire occurrence”. No action has been initiated against the company for negligence.

The Eloor industrial area hosts about 250 industries, of which more than a dozen, including Hindustan Insecticides Limited, are large chemical factories. The authorities – particularly, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board and the Factories and Boilers Inspectorate – have sought to treat community demands for information about the hazardous chemicals and processes as unnecessary interference rather than legitimate concerns. Repeated requests for information on emergency preparedness, and for the building of a bridge across the River Periyar at the Eloor ferry point to escape the island during emergencies have fallen on deaf ears.

The absence of emergency response procedures, the casual attitude of the district authorities and the industry, and the lack of appreciation of the magnitude of the incident and what it embodies is a shocking reminder that no lessons have been learnt from the 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal. Twenty years after the world’s worst industrial disaster, communities and workers continue to operate in complete ignorance when it comes to the hazardous substances stored and processes deployed in their neighborhoods. Throughout India, if more communities are not being wiped out by chemical disasters, that is not because of the legally mandated precautions or policing by regulatory authorities, but by sheer chance, favourable wind conditions and the communities’ good fortune.

Read the Greenpeace laboratory report on pollution from Hindustan Insecticides Limited

To see larger versions of the pictures click here

Chemical disaster hits Kerala, hundreds affected

Massive fire in the Hindustan Insecticides Limited Factory in Eloor, Kerala burns down Endosulfan plant. Hundreds of people living around face severe health problems.

This incident, which happened in the early hours of 6 July is nowhere mentioned in any of the major Indian or international news media. The Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samithi (PMVS – Periyar River Anti-Pollution Committee) activist V. V. Purushan has just us sent this on-the-spot account.

“Eloor, Tuesday 6 July 2004. This morning at around 2 am a fire started in the Hindustan Insecticides Limited factory and within hours the whole endosulfan plant burnt down. Toxic gases and smoke spread all over Eloor, Pallipurachal and Chowka North End as well as to the Varapuzha Panchayath area, affecting hundreds of people. People living in the Pallipurachal area rushed to the Eloor Ferry and crossed the river in fear and helplessness. Many people were running with small babies to escape from the toxic smoke. It was by sheer luck that a major tragedy of casualties did not happen. From 2 o’clock onwards the people of Eloor North and Pallipurachal area were almost resigned to their fate and expecting tragedy to strike them, even as the factory continued to burn. The HIL management said that plant has not been badly affected and that only a small quantity of toluene, a little bit of endosulfan and some rubber sheets were burnt. Whatever company officials say, in the community people are suffering serious health problems. An 8-member doctors team has come to assess the situation and given immediate medical help under the Additional District Magistrate, who was the first senior official to reach the site, nearly 8 hours after the incident. About 200 people have been given initial medical assistance. One 16- year old girl has been admitted after she developed convulsions, chest pain and dizziness. Even as I am writing this, the doctors are continuing their check up (3.30 pm). We know and we are expecting serious long term health problems due to this disaster.”

The Eloor Industrial Area hosts about 250 industries of which there are more than a dozen large chemical factories. This particular factory the Hindustan Insecticides Limited has been in the eye of the storm for quite some time now. In 1999, Greenpeace surveyed and sampled the factory outskirts, especially a stream coming out of the factory into the community water body and the river and found 111 chemicals of which 39 were hazardous organochlorine compounds including DDT and metabolites, endosulfan and metabolites and their degradation products. This plant is the only plant in India which produces DDT (a persistent organic pollutant ) and endosulfan as well as dicofol.

In 2003, Greenpeace again conducted a study in the area and found that the community living in the area were badly affected and that the probabilities of falling ill with various diseases were much higher than normal control values. The community under the banner of the PMVS had been demanding the right to Information on the hazardous chemicals used, processed and manufactured by the factories in the area and has also been demanding that factories implement a disaster management plan and an emergency response system. All these demands have fallen on the dead ears of the Kerala State Pollution Control Board, the Factories & Boilers Department and the State Health & Industries Department. The industries in the area and their managements have been completely ignoring the community demands, as they know that local people are dependent on the factories and will not go over their heads to stop them. In the last three years there have been frequent gas leaks and accidents, especially from Merchem, a privately owned factory producing some fungicides and FACT, a major fertilizer company.

Eloor itself is situated in between the river and amidst factories and the 30,000 odd people living in the area has literally no way of escape except to jump into the river or get ferries (if they are the lucky ones ) if such incidents occur. Even in this case, while about 200 people could ferry across, more than double that number was stranded with their fate on the banks of the river. While more from the area is coming, we here are shocked because we understand that the thermal degradation products of Endosulfan , HCCP and Toluene could be highly corrosive and toxic HCl, Chlorine gases and Phosgene. It is also felt that burning of Organochlorine products could be producing Dioxins and Furans, which could make matters worse. More will be added as and when we receive news. And please do get back with whatever information or technical support that you can offer.

Offers of assistance to thanal@md4.vsnl.net.in

Warnings by Greenpeace ignored.Eloor population at high risk

Urgent Action Alert: Coca Cola pollution protestors arrested, falsely accused

Kerala: people protesting the Coca Cola Plachimada facility’s contamination of local groundwater and land – with toxins such as cadmium and lead – are experiencing repression at the hands of local police and company hirelings. 13 peaceful protestors – two of whom are leading activists against Coca Cola – have been arrested and falsely accused of trying to destroy company property. During 480 days of non-stop peaceful protests there have been over 300 arrests so far, after Coca Cola managers announced that the demonstrations, which have been supported by writers, poets, academics, scientists, engineers and health personnel amongst others, were “politically motivated”. The demonstrators, primarily adivasis, believe that Coca Cola is attempting to depict their protests as ‘extremist’ in order to bring them under the ambit of State anti-terrorist measures – and the local police seem to be obliging the company managers.

Please write to the Keralan Chief Minister to demand the unconditional release of the protestors and the withdrawal of false charges.

ACTIVISTS ARRESTED. ATTEMPT BY THE POLICE AND GOVERNMENT TO
FALSELY IMPLICATE THEM TO CRUSH THE STRUGGLE.

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 inefficieancy 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 Samiti (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 of 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 protest telegrams/fax messages/letters to:
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

In your letter,
– Protest against the arrest, and demand the unconditional release and withdrawal of false cases against activists;
– Demand immediate criminal action against Coca Cola, closure of the plant, compensation for the destruction of the water resources and restoration of the ecology.

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

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

Coca Cola scandal deepens, killings begin

As published in The Statesman

12 August 2003
HEAT ON COLD DRINKS

By ARJUN SEN
“THE Coca-Cola company exists to benefit and refresh everyone it touches,” says the home page of the world’s largest soft drink company’s website. But many in India, and in the 199 other countries that Coke is sold in, are finding out the truth the hard way.

Coke has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons; the latest being the 5 August report of the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi. A CSE test found 12 soft-drink brands of Coke and its global rival Pepsi contained pesticides and insecticides in excess of the European Economic Commission’s limit. The Parliament’s immediate reaction: ban on the brands on its premises.

On 8 August, a West Bengal government report said sludge and liquid effluents from Coke’s plants at Dankuni, Taratala and Jalpaiguri and Pepsi’s at Narendrapur contained toxic metals and the carcinogen cadmium.

On 6 August, Kerala State Pollution Control Board had confirmed that Coke’s bottling plant had indeed been polluting the groundwater and agricultural land in and around its Palakkad plant.

Six months ago, CSE tests had found pesticides in leading packaged water brands, including those produced by Coke and Pepsi.

These bombshells followed media reports in the UK and in India of the scorching and environmentally disastrous impact of Coke’s operations in several regions in India; of allegedly rigging marketing tests in the USA and using slush funds to boost equipment sales; of reportedly
hiring Right-wing death squads to eliminate trade union organisers in Columbia and Guatemala; of causing environmental damage in Panama and of neglecting health problems of its employees in Africa.

While reports of pesticides’ and insecticides’ presence in Coke and Pepsi may now deter consumers from enjoying the soft-drinks, people living in and around Coke’s bottling plants in India have been feeling the heat in a different way. In Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, people have been protesting against Coke’s bottling plants because they’ve depleted groundwater level and damaged the environment.

Villagers of Palakkad’s Plachimada village in Kerala had been agitating against Coke’s bottling plant for several months but their plight drew global attention only recently after BBC Radio 4’s Face The Facts expose. Presenter John Waite visited Coke’s Plachimada plant after villagers complained of falling groundwater level in the area after Coke had started drawing it in huge quantities. Waite carried the samples of water and wastes sold by Coke as soil conditioner (but used by local farmers as fertiliser) back to the UK, where laboratory tests showed that they contained dangerous levels of cadmium. Tests at University of Exeter too showed the material was useless as a fertiliser and contained a number of toxic metals, including lead.

But the company has been denying any wrongdoing. Coke vice-president in India Sunil Gupta told the BBC that the fertiliser didn’t pose any risk. “We have scientific evidence to prove it is absolutely safe and we have never had any complaints.”

But Plachimada’s villagers have a different story to tell. Three years ago, the little patch of land in the green, picturesque rolling hills of Palakkad yielded 50 sacks of rice and 1,500 coconuts a year. It provided work for dozens of labourers. Then Coke arrived and built a 40-acre bottling plant nearby. In his last harvest, Shahul Hameed, owner of a small holding, could manage only five sacks of rice and just 200 coconuts. His irrigation wells have run dry, thanks to Coke drawing up to 1.5 million litres of water daily through its deep wells to bottle Coke, Fanta, Sprite and the drink the locals call, without irony, ”Thumbs-Up”.

But the cruellest twist is that while the plant bottles a mineral water, local people – who can never afford it – are now being forced to walk up to 10 kilometre twice a day for a pot of drinking water. The turbid, brackish water that remains at the bottom of their wells contains too high a level of dissolved salts to drink, cook with or even wash in.

The disruption in life because of depletion of groundwater and contamination by pollutants have forced villagers to picket the factory for the past 470 odd days. Over 300 people have been held for demonstrating against Coke and blackening its hoardings.

On 7 April, the Perumatty panchayat revoked the factory’s licence to alleviate the villagers’ sufferings despite losing almost half of its annual income of Rs 7,00,000. But Coke’s lawyers got the suspension order revoked by appealing to the local self-government department.

Coke could operate its plant till 6 August – but on that day KPCB made its report public, confirming the existence of carcinogenic contaminants in the waste. Now, the government has postponed the hearing, saying it’s “necessary to… (get) SPCB’s report” confirmed.

This is actually a David and Goliath battle: some of the world’s poorest people versus a multinational giant. The Centre classifies many of the suffering villagers as primitive tribals or Dalits. Few took notice when the villagers first began complaining of the changes in the quantity and quality of well water. But their complaints mounted, for they not only lost their water but, with the dried-out farms closing, also their jobs. A reasonable number of crippled labourers would be 10,000.

Coke, of course, denies responsibility for all this, and it has the support the local authorities; they argue that the company creates jobs. Politicians even threatened the agitationists with “dire consequences” if they didn’t stop.

Though Coke claims to have carried out the mandatory Environment Impact Assessment report before setting up the plant, none so far has seen the report. Waite’s repeated requests to the company to produce a copy of the report met with failure.

In UP, sustained protests against Coke have prompted the Central Pollution Control Board to initiate a probe into the pollution being caused allegedly by Bharat Coca-Cola Bottling North East Private Ltd – a bottling arm of Coke – in Mehdiganj, 20 km from Varanasi. Trouble started in early May when a court found the firm guilty of not paying land revenue worth more than Rs 15 lakh. An equal amount of penalty – under Section 47 (A) of the Indian Stamps Act – has also been imposed on the company. The case, filed in April 2001 by the UP government, was the outcome of lobbying by protesting local residents. They allege the plant has been discharging hazardous wastes and heavy consumption of groundwater has depleted the water level, from 15 feet to 40 feet. Result: severe drinking water scarcity.

In Maharashtra, villagers of Kudus in Thane district now have to travel long distances in search of water because it has dried up, thanks to Coke. Villagers have began questioning the subsidised water, land and tax breaks that Coke gets from the state, only to leave them more thirsty. A man was detained for protesting against Coke’s pipeline, built to carry water from a river to its plant.

In Tamil Nadu, more than 7,000 people gathered in Sivaganga recently to protest against a proposed Coke plant.

Protests are also building up against the sale of major Cauvery tributary Bhavani by Tamil Nadu government to Poonam Beverages for bottling Coke’s packaged water, Kinley. Despite the state facing drought conditions, the government effected the sale. At places the ground water level is beyond reach resulting in water riots and even killings.

In Rajasthan, villagers of Kala Dera near Jaipur have been protesting against the fall in the groundwater level after a Coke plant started drawing water. After the firm set up a bottling plant, the area’s wells and ponds dried up. ”The water level has fallen by more than 150 feet in the area . . . ,” said a villager. Locals have submitted a memorandum to the chief minister, demanding the plant be shifted.

But the unfazed $-20-billion, Atlanta-based soft drink giant claims “local communities have welcomed our business as a good corporate neighbour.” But this should not come as a surprise, for Coke is accustomed to having its way with governments. Under the rules of entry into India, Coke was to divest 49 per cent of its equity stake within five years. But now the government seems to have given in to the soft drink giant’s pressure; it’s on the verge of changing its
policy to suit Coke’s interest. Will Indian investors own 49 per cent of Coke’s operations in India, but have no vote whatsoever?

Remember Enron! In Coke’s case too, the US government played a significant role. US ambassador to India Robert Blackwill wrote to Prime Minister’s principal secretary Brajesh Mishra: “I would like to bring to your attention, and seek your help in resolving, a potentially serious investment problem of some significance to both our countries. The case involves Coca-Cola, one of the largest single foreign investors in India.”

But around the world, Coke has increasingly become the target of local communities’ ire around because of its disregard for man and his environment. The world’s most well recognised brand name’s Latin American bottler is facing trial for allegedly hiring Right-wing paramilitary forces (death squads) to kill and intimidate trade union organisers, especially from SINALTRAINAL. The suit has been brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act, that allows corporations to be sued in the USA for crimes committed overseas.

Holding Coke responsible for the harms it causes is nothing new. In May 2003, Coca-Cola de Panama was fined US $300,000 for polluting Matasnillo river in that country.

Coke may not go the Enron way – for it is not based on assumptions and speculation. But both share some uncanny similarities: Enron and Coke top the US foreign direct investment (FDI) list in India. Enron’s Indian operations (Dabhol Power Corporation, joint venture with Bechtel and General Electric and others) was the largest single FDI in India and became the target of activists across the country because of various irregularities. Enron was forced to shut down its Indian operations long before the financial scandal broke out in the USA and brought the entire company down.

The company that started life in 1886 as the result of a search for a headache remedy may soon join Enron if it fails to stop giving people more headaches than it can cure.

(The author is former News Editor of The Economic Times.)

The history of Coca Cola

Coca-Cola used to contain cocaine. Now it just contains chlorpyrifos, malathion, DDT etc etc (at least in India)