Plachimada relief bill delayed

President yet to receive the bill that will make Coca-Cola pay

By Savvy Soumya Misra
Published: Wednesday 22 June 2011

The Kerala government was lauded when it passed a bill in February seeking compensation from Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Company for the ecological damage it caused Plachimada village in Palakkad district. The bill that aims to adjudicate disputes relating to compensation for the damage the company’s cola bottling plant caused in the village, however, is yet to become an Act because of delay in the mandatory President’s assent.

Drafted to realise `216.25 crore from the soft drink giant, the Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims’ Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill, 2011, was passed on February 24 (see ‘Tribunal for Plachimada victims’). The company says the decision to set up a tribunal is “unconstitutional”.

State governor R S Gavai has sent the bill for presidential assent through the home ministry. The ministry, which received the bill on March 30, is awaiting comments from various related ministries. These comments will be consolidated and then forwarded to the President, say sources.

S Faizi, member of the Plachimada High Power Committee, says there was no need to send the bill to the President. “These are tactics by Coca-Cola to influence the Centre.” Kerala’s former law minister Vijay Kumar says the President’s assent is vital to give judicial validity to the tribunal. Coca-Cola said it was not applying pressure on the government. A company official said Coca-Cola is engaging with stakeholders on the issue.

Soon after the bill was passed, the state finance minister K M Mani , who was the parliamentary party leader of Kerala Congress (M) in the 12th assembly of the Kerala legislature (2006-11), and was in the opposition, being a constituent of the UDF, when the bill was passed, had said the President’s approval was important as the tribunal would take up the case of environmental compensation, which was part of the residuary powers of legislation of Parliament. Issues that fall under the residuary powers may not be within the constitutionally mandated jurisdiction of a state assembly. Faizi disagrees. “There was no issue of repugnance and hence no need for the assent. In its operative part, the bill deals with state subjects, like agriculture losses, animal husbandry and groundwater contamination.”

In a letter sent recently to Kerala Chief Minister Oomen Chandy, Faizi urged him to expedite the process of making the bill an Act by putting pressure on the Centre. “Instead of a special tribunal, Coca-Cola wants that compensation should be given through the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which even after a year of enactment is not operational,” Faizi notes in the letter. Moreover, NGT has a time limit of filing cases within five years of damage while at Plachimada the victims are suffering from about 10 years, he adds.

Give up, they shall not

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