At a time when Sri Lanka is looking at ways to preserve water and its natural resources, various multi-national stalwarts too are claiming territory. One such multi-national that made headlines in this way is the Coca-Cola Beverages Sri Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, which held discussions recently to request for an expansion project. Amidst closing down operations in India following protests over extensive extraction of ground water and thereby causing huge damage to the environment, Coca-Cola has had initial discussions with Finance Minister Ravi Karunayake to discuss the possibility of setting up a production factory in Sri Lanka and use ground water here to export some of its brands to India. During the past few years, the Coca-Cola Beverages Sri Lanka Ltd was subject to criticism on various grounds from careless handling of discharge to polluting the Kelani River. In an attempt to shed light on the concerns of this expansion, the Daily Mirror spoke to a few individuals of varied expertise, to consult their opinions regarding this project.
“The previous oil leakage was an accident”
"The President himself has given us a mandate to continue any project that causes minimum or no damage to the environment."
Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Central Environmental Authority (CEA) Chairman, Prof. Lal Mervin Dharmasiri said that Sri Lanka is a country that depends on foreign investments. “Through mega-scale factories they provide job opportunities for the locals in addition to many other benefits. But if they keep considering the environmental hazards, nothing could be done. The President himself has given us a mandate to continue any project that causes minimum or no damage to the environment. The previous oil leakage caused by the Coca-Cola factory was an accident and the company even issued a notice stating that they would be shifting to another place to prevent such damage from occurring again. The Coca-Cola factory recently signed a MoU with the CEA and will be funding Rs. 1.5 million to establish online water monitoring stations. The purpose of this project is to monitor the quality of water and also continue their work without causing any damage to the environment.”
“NWSDB cannot restrict abstraction of groundwater unless government requests”
G.m. - NWSBD
"There are no such government regulations in Sri Lanka at the moment but once they establish their project there will be a committee where the water board too will be a member"
In his comments GM of the National Water Supply and Drainage Board, G. A Kumararathne said that the NWSDB cannot restrict the abstraction of groundwater until the government requests them to restrict it. “If they go for individual abstraction then they have to abide by certain limitations. Many people depend on groundwater and therefore if they start abstracting then there should be proper monitoring. There are no such government regulations in Sri Lanka at the moment but once they establish their project there will be a committee where the water board too will be a member. Here we will be commenting on the discharge, pollution and other negative consequences occurring from the project.”
“CEA shouldn’t encourage the initiatives of companies that could cause environmental damage”
- Director ECT
"The respective authorities were simply silenced after the company agreed to pay Rs. 131 million in compensation for the NWSDB for contaminating the river water with oil."
The Director of the Environment Conservation Trust, Sajeewa Chamikara said that the Rs. 150 million worth fund that the Coca Cola Company intends to provide for the environmental restoration of the Kelani River is nothing but an initiation to divert authorities from seeing the real picture of the environmental damage caused to the river by the Company. “The Central Environment Authority is not concerned about the rate at which the Kelani River is being polluted owing to the waste released into the water by the Coca Cola Company. They have polluted the river before and will continue to do the same in future too. The CEA has failed to take heed of the environmental damage caused to Kelani River by the Coca Cola Company during the past and this situation would continue to remain the same in future too. According to him, the waste products of the company are generally stored in large tanks and are released in to the river mostly during the rainy season. When the oil contamination in Kelani River surfaced, the CEA failed to take any legal action against the company responsible for the environmental damage and water pollution. “The respective authorities were simply silenced after the company agreed to pay Rs. 131 million in compensation for the NWSDB for contaminating the river water with oil. CEA did not press charges against the Coca Cola Company since it agreed to pay the compensation for the environmental damage it caused to Kelani River back in 2015. I think that our environment authorities should play a much responsible role and not encourage the initiatives of companies that could harm our environment” he added.
“We are committed to ensuring the long term conservation of local water resources”
"We are working jointly with local community based stakeholders in reducing the adverse and far-reaching impacts of CKD stricken areas in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa"
In a statement issued by the Coca-Cola Beverages Sri Lanka Limited, a senior official said that at a recently held meeting between senior leaders of the Coca-Cola system and the Minister of Finance, Coca-Cola reiterated its commitment to Sri Lanka. “In the backdrop of a stable and investor-friendly economy, the company expressed interest in further enhancing its investments in the country. The investment will significantly contribute towards the increase in supply chain infrastructure, manufacturing capacity and human capital which would undoubtedly enable job creation, portfolio expansion and thereby provide greater refreshment and choice to all our consumers and customers in Sri Lanka.
Our operating model is one that strives to create economic and social value across the chain and for the communities in which we operate. We are working jointly with local community based stakeholders in reducing the adverse and far-reaching impacts of CKD stricken areas in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa . We are committed to working with partners from civil society and the government in ensuring the long term conservation of local water resources, primarily the Kelani River. A healthier community in harmony with a viable, sustainable and growing business is in the best interest of society and we are happy to play our part.”
Several attempts to contact Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and State Minister of International Trade Sujeewa Senasinghe failed.