Media statement by Dr S.Faizi, Expert member, Plachimada High Power Committee.
Plachimada/Cola Compensation Bill: The Centre seeks to subvert the Constitutional process
The letter from the central Home Ministry to the Kerala government ‘requesting’ it to withdraw the Plachimada Coca Cola Victims Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill, 2011 constitutes a glaring act of subversion of the Constitutional process. The reasons raised by the central Home Ministry are an outlandish repeat of the multinational company’s ‘legal opinion’ it had submitted to the UPA government.
The Home Ministry provides gratuitous advice to the State govt- in line with the multinational’s ‘legal opinion’- to approach the National Green Tribunal (NGT). This betrays the sad fact that the Home Ministry officials have not even read the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. Section 15.3 of the Act requires the petitions for compensation to be filed within a period of 5 years, with a grace period of 6 months. The most critical damages to groundwater and toxic contamination caused by the Cola company at Plachimada occurred during 2000-2004, way before the five years and six months time bar set by the Act and therefore this Act cannot be used to redress the tragedy at Plachimada. This is the reason why the Bill was (unanimously) passed by the Assembly. And it may be recalled that the NGT became operational only in May 2011. The Home Ministry officials and their legal advisors should be held accountable for deliberately misinforming a State government.
There is absolutely no conflict between the NGT Act and the Bill, primarily due to the difference in the temporal coverage, in fact by filling the time gap in regard to the Plachimada locale the Bill provides an excellent complement to the NGT Act. The Home Ministry repeating the challenge of the Cola company that the State Assembly has no legislative competence to enact legislation to redress the damages in the areas of health, agriculture, labor (loss), animal husbandry, groundwater etc, all listed in the State List (II under the Seventh Schedule) is posing a serious question on Centre- State relations, and all democratic forces should be concerned about this.
The Bill does not by any means comes in conflict with the Centre’s powers as provided by Articles 253 and 246; it flows from the State’s Constitutional responsibility to act upon the violation of the Article 21 and has got nothing to do with any international declaration.
It is surprising that the while the Home Ministry refers to the responses of the Department of Legal Affairs and the Solicitor General that favour the Cola company, it tactically ignores the categorical support to the Bill officially expressed by the relevant ministries long time ago. And these ministries are: the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Food Processing Industries and the Department of Justice under the Ministry of Law. (I have copies of their approval letters). That is obviously a tactics adopted to favour the powerful American company, especially at a time when the US president is set to visit India.
The Home Ministry is subverting the Constitutional process by refusing to pass on the Bill, with the government’s comments, to who it was originally addressed- the President, even after three years and in spite of seeking and obtaining numerous clarifications.
I call upon the State government to squarely reject the Centre’s letter, and moblise political forces with the democratic society to have the assent obtained. If the assent is further delayed by the Centre, the State Assembly may pass a resolution on the subject and commence the enforcement of the law, as there is no case of repugnance involved.
The State Government shall not further delay initiating criminal proceedings against the recalcitrant company for which show cause notice was given by the Pollution Control Board in 2007, under the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling Rules).
There is no justification for the State govt’s delay in registering case against the Cola company under the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act as recommended by the Plachimada High Power Committee.
Plachimada High Power Committee
Note to the editor: copy of the referred letter from the Home Ministry is available upon request. Some of the issues were replied in greater detail in my response to Cola’s ‘legal opinion’ authored by Shri KK Venugopal long time ago, shall be sent upon request.