A pall of gloom is descending over Plachimada village located on the eastern borders of Palakkad district with the Union government insisting on scrapping the Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill 2011 terming it as violative of the federal principles, and the State government failing to find steps to convince the Centre and implement it.
“We heard that the State Assembly unitedly voiced its concern over the Centre’s move last week. However, no steps have been taken to apprise the Centre about the grim situation in Plachimada or to restore our livelihood destroyed by the over exploitation of groundwater in Plachimada by aerated drinks major Coca-Cola,” said C. Pazhani, one of the tribal beneficiaries of the Bill.
“The State Assembly had passed the Bill unanimously when V.S. Achuthanandan was the Chief Minister after obtaining the opinion of legal experts that the Bill was as per the rights of the State. Many legal luminaries were of the opinion that there was no need of obtaining the President’s assent and the State governor could promulgate it. But the then Law Minister and CPI(M) leader M. Vijayakumar had sent the Bill to the Union Home Ministry for obtaining the President’s assent without taking his Cabinet colleagues or experts into confidence,” alleged environmentalist Indyanur Gopi, who worked with the Plachimada Struggle Solidarity Committee. According to him, it was the haste shown by Mr. Vijayakumar that was responsible for the present crisis as the Home Ministry was seeking the reversal of the Bill without forwarding it to the President for assent. The Bill had so far been gathering dust at the Home Ministry.
“It is high time that Kerala approached the Centre asking it to forward it to the President for assent,” said S. Faizi, technical member of the Plachimada High Power Committee constituted by the State government to look into the damage caused by the company.
“The Centre’s move is a bid to subvert the constitutional process to ensure justice for the people demanding compensation. The State government must probe legal options to challenge the arbitrary manner in which the Centre returned the Bill without forwarding it to the President,’’ said Mr. Faizi.
“As per the law, the Home Ministry can forward the Bill to the President with its comments and observations. Only the President can take a decision. The Ministry has no right to return it or to direct the State to scrap it,” said local activist Arumugan Pathichira.
“The Centre’s action amounted to the executive usurping the powers of the legislature. Presidential reference is an exclusive right vested in the President of India and it is for him to take a decision which should be conveyed to the State. In this case, the Centre exercised non-existent powers to direct the State legislature to withdraw its legislation,” environmentalist P.S Panicker said.
Mr. Faizi termed as unrealistic the Ministry’s observation that the Bill was in conflict with the National Green Tribunal Act.
He said the NGT could accept petitions for compensation in cases only up to five-and-a-half years before its inception.
“The NGT became operational only in May 2011. The groundwater exploitation and toxic contamination caused by the company at Plachimada occurred during 2000-2004,” he said.
Centre's move a bid to subvert constitutional process, says S.Faizi, member of Plachimada High Power Committee