Two decades ago, this 34-acre plant in Plachimada, Kerala, made headlines when it was chosen as the site of a Coca-Cola plant. In 1998, Coca-Cola, under its Indian subsidiary Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Private Limited (HCCBPL), had acquired the site and commenced operations at its bottling plant in 2000. Within six months, the villages around the plant began to be affected by its hazardous effects. Groundwater was contaminated and toxic waste was being released. What followed was a long struggle against the plant's operation by the villagers, interest groups, and NGOs, leading to its shutdown in 2004.
Conversion To A COVID hospital
This contentious site has now been converted to a COVID facility. The government officials mentioned in a report by The Indian Express that the total cost of this project is ₹ 75 lakh and has 100 oxygen beds, 40 ICU beds and 10 ventilators. They have also facilitated 10 pediatric beds assuming that a third wave could affect children. The hospital has been equipped with a one-kilolitre oxygen tank and a dozen doctors appointed by the Health Department. Hiring other medical staff will be done with the support of local bodies, the officials informed.
V Murugadas, Chittur block panchayat president, said, "The eight village panchayats have set aside Rs 10 lakh each, and the Chittur block panchayat ₹30 lakh, to run the Covid treatment centre. A management committee has been formed by these local bodies to address non-medical issues,"
Kerala Electricity Minister K Krishnankutty says that the infrastructure and medical equipment were provided by the Health Department with support from the public, and the eight village panchayats in the region. "Local residents, including small-time farmers, contributed financially. And, around 300 volunteers worked for a week, day and night, to make the hospital a reality,'' he said. The facility once operational has the capacity to cater to the needs of eight panchayats. "We have already tied up with sponsors to ensure free supply of food to patients,'' said Risha Premkumar, the Perumatty panchayat president.
Krishnankutty said that this idea to convert the closed plant into a hospital came about a month ago. With a spike in COVID cases in Kerala, the government had been looking for places to build infrastructure for treatment. Former employees of the plant suggested he approach Coca-Cola to use their closed plant site.
He added that the company freely handed over the plant and also carried out the required renovations. Within two weeks, the conversion was complete.
Kamalesh Kumar Sharma, Chief Public Affairs and Communications Officer, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd,said the company is committed to helping the government. He added, "The scale of this disease is such that it needs the coordinated effort of everyone to check its spread. So, when the district administration requested us to take over the plant premises to open a Covid treatment centre, we handed over the premises to them after the required repair and maintenance. We are glad that the assets will be put to use for the smooth and efficient running of the centre."