The Supreme Court has slammed the Kerala government for doing “virtually nothing” for Endosulfan pesticide exposure victims. The court said the State’s inaction was “appalling” and amounted to a breach of the apex court’s 2017 judgment, which had ordered the State to pay ₹5 lakh each to the victims in three months.
Five years since the judgment, the court has realised that only eight out of 3,704 victims have been paid compensation.
Of the 3,704 victims, 102 are bedridden, 326 mentally challenged, 201 are physically disabled, 119 wrecked by cancer while 2,966 others fall in the residual category.
“The Government of Kerala has done virtually nothing for five years. Besides the fact that the delay is appalling, the inaction is in breach of the orders of this court,” a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud observed sharply in its order in a contempt petition.
The court noted that though the State government had, in January 2022, authorised the disbursal of an additional ₹200 crore, so far only eight victims have got ₹5 lakh each out of the allotted money. These eight happen to be the victims who had sought contempt action against the State in the Supreme Court. All these years, the State seemed to have ignored others like them, voiceless, faceless and too poor to approach the apex court, but nevertheless maimed for life by the toxin.
“We fail to understand the logic or the rationale of the State government in disbursing compensation only to those who have the ability to move this court… There are a large number of victims to whom no compensation has been provided despite the passage of over five years since the date of the judgment of this court. Most of the victims, as the data before the court indicate, are from the marginalised segments of society. Many of the victims are in a pitiable condition to whom compensation on an urgent basis has to be provided,” the Supreme Court observed in the order.
The court said how the State has again not disclosed the steps it has taken to provide medical facilities or treatment or rehabilitation to victims to deal with life-long health issues arising out of the effects of Endosulfan.
“The right to health is an integral part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution. Without health, the faculties of living have little meaning,” the court noted.
Order to Chief Secretary
Opting to take recourse to the “coercive arm of law” to address the immediate concerns to provide relief to victims, “who are suffering”, the Bench directed the Chief Secretary to hold monthly meetings to identify the victims of Endosulfan and draw up a list of beneficiaries; to ensure the disbursement of compensation of ₹5 lakh to each victim; and take steps to provide victims medical facilities in terms of the Supreme Court judgment and subsequent orders.
The court also ordered the State to pay ₹50,000 each to the eight contempt petitioners within three weeks for delayed payment of compensation to them.
The Bench ordered Kerala to file a compliance affidavit before the next date of hearing on July 18, 2022.
In the earlier hearings, Kerala had claimed that it had earmarked over ₹180 crore for payment of compensation to victims, who had fallen prey to the pesticide which was aerially sprayed on cashew plantations close to where they lived.