In what could turn out to be a landmark development, a nine-member expert panel headed by Additional Chief Secretary K. Jayakumar, constituted to assess the socio-economic damages caused by Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Limited at Plachimada village in Palakkad district, has finalised its report advising the government to take steps to realise Rs.200 crore in damages from the multinational company.
The panel, which is all set to submit its report later this week, has also recommended the formation of a tribunal which the people of Plachimada could approach seeking compensation for the damage that they have suffered on account of the company's operation in the village from 1999 to 2004. The company was forced to close down its unit in the village following what has come to be termed a historic struggle by the people of Plachimada.
The expert panel, comprising heads of various State departments, legal experts and environmental activists, was formed in September 2009 and was supposed to submit its report by December 31. It had held four public hearings, including one at the Perumatti panchayat within the jurisdiction of which the beverages unit was located, and visited the affected areas for an on-the-spot study of the damage allegedly caused by the Coca-Cola unit.
The company has not accepted the decision to form the expert panel and had even questioned its authority to go into the compensation question. In its communication to the State government, it had termed the formation of the panel highly presumptuous and expressed the fear that it would not get justice from the panel. In keeping with this position, it had refused to appear before the panel to present its case.
Sources in the know of things told The Hindu on Sunday that the panel was unanimous in its position that the Central and State governments had the full authority to extract damages from the cola company by going in for the formation of a tribunal through legislation on the lines of the Environmental Tribunal Act of 1995. Tamil Nadu has already put in place an Act and constituted an authority for payment of compensation for environmental damage to people and places caused by industries.
The Plachimada Struggle Solidarity Committee and the Adivasi Samrakshana Sanghom, which were in the forefront of the Plachimada struggle, have been campaigning for extraction of compensation from the company and had submitted a detailed memorandum to the panel seeking compensation for the people of Plachimada and initiation of prosecution measures against the company.
Going by available information, the panel has gone into all aspects of the issue and has incorporated a recommendation for prosecution measures against the Coca-Cola company.