Environment ministry says compensation claims from Coca-Cola diluted by time limit
It has been more than two years since the Kerala Assembly passed a Bill to set up a tribunal to secure compensation for people of Plachimada village who suffered the ill-effects of ground water depletion and pollution at the hands of beverage giant Coca-Cola. But the tribunal is yet to be set up because of delay by the Centre. A memorandum regarding the constitution of the Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims’ Relief and Compensation Claim Special Tribunal was submitted to the Union home ministry on March 15.
Home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, who said he was unaware of the case, assured them that he would look into the matter.
People’s organisation Plachimada Anti Coca-Cola Struggle Committee, who submitted the memorandum, questioned the two-year-long delay in approving the Bill. The committee and other social organisations have been agitating since 2002 for people of Plachimada in Kerala who allege that the soft drink plant of Hindustan Coca Cola Beverage Company in their area depleted more than 64 wells and polluted their groundwater. In 2004, the cola giant’s Plachimada unit was closed down. In 2010, an expert committee assessed and slapped Rs 218 crore damages on the cola company.
The Plachimada tribunal Bill was unanimously passed by the Kerala Assembly on February 24, 2011. Once it becomes an Act, it would legitimise the constitution of a special tribunal for securing the compensation for the people of Plachimada. The Bill was sent by the state governor for presidential assent via the home ministry end of March 2011. In March 2012, the state government sent a reminder to the MHA, enquiring into the inordinate delay in forwarding the Bill to the President.
Other ministries approve Bill
According to the memorandum, the home ministry had forwarded this bill to various ministries for comments on April 13, 2011. The four related ministries of agriculture, water resources, rural development and law have categorically approved this Bill and some recommended even stronger measures than mentioned in the contents of the Bill. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, however, has not given positive comments on the bill.
As per the memorandum, the present the Bill in its present form has set a time limit of 10 years from the time damages were incurred for demanding compensation from the company. The environment ministry stated that this provision is against the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Act which set a time restriction of five years. Hence, in accordance with the NGT Act, the claims of the residents of Plachimada have already been diluted.
“The environment ministry has been repeating the argument of the cola company,” says K V Biju, convener of Plachimada Anti Coca-Cola Struggle Committee. “The Plachimada Bill is in fulfilment of the State's obligation in terms of Article 21 as interpreted by the Supreme Court and based on the polluter-pays principle that has become an integral part of our jurisprudence,” he adds.
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