PALAKKAD: As the first batch of 25 patients were admitted on Saturday, the transformation of the bottling unit of Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages (HCCB) Private Limited, which was closed down in March 2004, in Plaachimada into a Covid First Line Treatment Centre (CFLTC) has taken everybody by surprise.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijyan had inaugurated the CFLTC more than a week ago. The Coca Cola unit, spread over 34 acres in Plaachimada with a built up space of 35,000 square feet, once attracted journalists from major newspapers in the US and the BBC to cover the agitations against it.
Health Minister Veena George visited the factory-turned-CFLTC on Friday evening and examined the facilities.
Electricity Minister K Krishnankutty who took the initiative to set up the CFLTC said, “When there was a rise in Covid cases, we were scouting for a premises with necessary infrastructure. Some former employees suggested that I approach the Coke management as the unit has been lying closed for many years. The company refurbished the whole unit with CSR funds and handed it over. The conversion of the unit into a hospital was completed in two to three weeks.”
"We admitted 25 patients today. Initially we are admitting only Category A (those having mild symptoms) and category B (symptoms with co-morbidities). The staff are being trained and only after this is completed will other categories of patients be admitted. There are 550 beds of which 50 are ICU beds, 100 have centralized oxygen supply channel and we have oxygen concentrators for another 25 beds. There is cylinder support for all beds," said Dr Riyaz Basheer who is in charge of the CFLTC.
The CFLTC will be beneficial to the seven panchayats under the Chittur Block and the Pattancherry panchayat under the Kollengode block. Each of the eight panchayats had contributed Rs 10 lakh totaling Rs 80 lakh. The total cost was around Rs 1.40 crore. A sum of Rs 30 lakh was released by the District Disaster Management Authority and another Rs 30 lakh by the block panchayat. The mess was being managed by Kudumbasree and food is provided round the clock, said Risha Premkumar, president of the Perumatty panchayat.
“We are pleased to partner with the government and the local administration in their efforts against the Covid-19 pandemic. The scale of the disease is such that it needs the co-ordinated effort of everyone to check its spread. So when the district administration requested us for the Palakkad plant premises to set up a CFLTC, we handed over the premises after undertaking the required repair and maintenance,” said Kamlesh Sharma, Chief Public Affairs and Communication Officer, HCCB.
The Plaachimada unit of Coca Cola had suspended operations in March 2004 following agitations by locals citing overexploitation of groundwater and dumping of sludge causing pollution.
Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Limited had purchased 34-odd acres in Plaachimada in the district of Palakkad aimed at servicing the Kerala and Tamil Nadu market from the plant. Nearly 400 workers had been provided direct employment, of which half were contract workers. The plant had been commissioned in March 2000 after the Perumatty panchayat under which the unit was located granted it a license to operate. However, the Perumatty panchayat subsequently refused to renew the licence in May 2003
In December 2003, the High Court of Kerala had permitted the company to operate the plant but with strings attached. Coca-Cola, as well as the Perumatty panchayat, appealed against the order to the Kerala High Court.
Even though the company decided to suspend operations in March 2004, in April 2005 the High Court directed the panchayat to renew the licence of HCCB to operate its plant and restricted the drawing of groundwater upto 5 lakh litres per day. However, Coca Cola decided not to operate the plant.
Subsequently, a 15-member committee headed by then additional chief secretary K Jayakumar which was set up by the then LDF government had found damages to the environment and water depletion and recommended the constitution of the tribunal. The losses were computed to the tune of Rs 216.25 crore.
The Kerala assembly later unanimously passed the Plaachimada Coca Cola Victims Relief and Compensation Claims Tribunal Bill 2011 which still awaits the assent of the President of India.
The US beverage major in its response to the moves to constitute the tribunal had said that the estimated losses were computed through a “flawed process”. They cited a number of reports by expert committees stating that their operations in Plaachimada had not resulted in any depletion or environmental damage since it followed the same process around the globe.