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Coca-Cola bottling plant at heart of Kerala agitation 20 years ago will now be a 600-bed Covid hospital

On Friday, the plant will be back under the spotlight, when the state government opens the doors of a new 600-bed Covid facility there.

Updated: June 24, 2021 09:19 IST

This 34-acre patch of land in Palakkad first made headlines over two decades ago when it was chosen as the site of a Coca-Cola plant, marking the soft-drink giant’s high-profile entry into Kerala. But soon, it was back in the news, at the centre of a massive agitation by local residents who complained of heavy pollution and groundwater exploitation.

Finally, in 2004, Coca-Cola pulled down the shutters, and the location, near the hamlet of Plachimada, faded into obscurity. On Friday, the plant will be back under the spotlight, when the state government opens the doors of a new 600-bed Covid facility there.

All it took was an idea — and one month, says Kerala Electricity Minister K Krishnankutty whose constituency of Chittur includes Plachimada.

“A month ago, when Covid cases were spiking in Kerala, we were looking for premises to increase infrastructure for treatment. That was when some former employees of the plant suggested that I approach Coca-Cola with the idea of using the closed unit for a hospital. The company not only handed over the building, they also did the required repair work. The actual work of converting the plant into a hospital could be completed within two weeks,’’ the Minister said.

Officials say the facility, built at a cost of Rs 75 lakh, has 100 oxygen beds, 40 ICU beds and 10 ventilators. “Ten paediatric beds have been made ready, anticipating that a third wave could affect children. The hospital also has a one-kilolitre oxygen tank. A dozen doctors have been appointed by the Health department… other medical staff will be hired with the support of local bodies,” an official said.

According to Krishnankutty, 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.

Plachimada falls in Perumatty panchayat, where the bottling plant was established in 1999. “Now, the facility will cater to the needs of eight panchayats. People from all strata of life volunteered to turn the plant into a hospital. We have already tied up with sponsors to ensure free supply of food to patients,’’ Risha Premkumar, panchayat president, said.

“The eight village panchayats have set aside Rs 10 lakh each, and the Chittur block panchayat Rs 30 lakh, to run the Covid treatment centre. A management committee has been formed by these local bodies to address non-medical issues,” V Murugadas, Chittur block panchayat president, said.

Kamalesh Kumar Sharma, Chief Public Affairs and Communications Officer, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd, said the company is “pleased to strengthen the government’s efforts” against Covid.

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“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,” Kumar said.

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