To get compensation for ecological damage caused by Coca Cola unit

In a trail-blazing legislative initiative, the Kerala Assembly on Thursday passed the Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill 2011 to secure for the inhabitants of Plachimada in Palakkad district compensation for the ecological damage caused by the Coca Cola unit that used to function in the village.

The Bill, the latest outcome of a protracted people's struggle which saw the Coca Cola unit being closed down in 2005 and an almost two-year-long exercise to quantify the damage provides for constitution of a three-member tribunal to be chaired by a person in the rank of a district judge and having an administrative member and an expert member. The tribunal would have all the powers under the Code of Civil Procedure and a two-year tenure.

Cases arising from ecological damage caused by the company and applications for compensation or restitution of damaged property would be taken up by the tribunal, which would decide on the compensation after hearing both the appellants and the company. The tribunal shall, while passing any award or order, apply the principles of sustainable development, precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle. Once compensation is awarded, the company shall deposit the entire award amount with the tribunal. All appeals against the tribunal's decisions would lie with the High Court.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) government decided to constitute the tribunal on the recommendation of a high-level expert panel headed by Additional Chief Secretary K. Jayakumar, which had quantified the ecological damage caused by the Coca Cola unit at Rs.216.16 crore. The Plachimada Bill came up before the House for passage on the final day of its final session before Assembly elections due in April-May, thanks to determined intervention by Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan and Water Resources Minister N. K. Premachandran and total unanimity in the House on the issue.

Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages (HCCB) Private Limited has slammed the Bill as being ‘devoid of facts, scientific data or any input from' the company, but environmentalists and green activists have termed it a ‘historic' achievement with which Kerala has set another ‘global example'. In a statement here, the HBCC said, “it is disappointed with the Plachimada Tribunal Bill and the flawed process on which it is based” and said it was “reviewing all available options, but remains willing to engage with all stakeholders on this issue.” None of the scientific studies had found HCCB's operations responsible for the damage alleged in the Bill, it said.