Case against Coca-Cola under SC/ST Act

‘Wilful pollution’:The defunct Coca-Cola unit at Plachimada, in Palakkad.— File Photo: K. K. Mustafah  

Under pressure from the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), the Kerala Home Department has registered a criminal case against Coca-Cola invoking provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, for groundwater exploitation and pollution at Plachimada here.

New dimension

The case registered at the Meenakshipuram police station on Friday, as directed by the Palakkad District Police Superintendent Debesh Kumar Bahara, has given a new dimension to the more than two-decade-old civil society movement against the multinational company.

As per Section 3.13 of the Act, wilful pollution of drinking water sources of the Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Castes will invite criminal prosecution.

Most victims of the groundwater exploitation at Plachimada are from the Scheduled Caste Eravala community.

Top executives of Coca-Cola in Kochi and Noida will be summoned soon for questioning.

It will be the first major case in India subjecting Coca-Cola to the country’s judicial process. The court can also impose a huge compensation package, if it finds the company guilty.

The Plachimada high-power committee, constituted by the State government to look into the damage caused by the company, had recommended a police case and follow-up action under the atrocities Act as the Eravalas constitute the most backward section among the Scheduled Castes.

The local community had approached the Special Deputy Superintendent of Police in Palakkad, who handles cases of atrocities against the SC/STs, seeking criminal proceedings against the company.

‘Damage of Rs. 216 cr.’

The move came after the Union Home Ministry last year returned the Plachimada Tribunal Bill, passed by the Assembly for ensuring relief and compensation to the victims, without forwarding it to the President for his assent. The company is accused of causing damage of Rs. 216 crore in the agrarian village.

Over 200 SC community members had signed the petition. As the police failed to act, the victims led by K. Thankavelu approached the NCSC, which resulted in registering of the case.

‘Moral victory’

“Registering of the case itself is a moral victory for Plachimada residents. The provisions are strong and non-bailable.

“The victims are mainly people whose only drinking water source was the panchayat well, which was wilfully polluted by the company with cadmium, lead, and arsenic, as determined by the Pollution Control Board, the Supreme Court monitoring committee, and the Plachimada high-power committee,” said S. Faizi, technical member on the high-power committee.

“Though the unit was closed down in 2005, the damage caused to our livelihood and drinking water rights remain unaddressed,” said M. Sarasa, a resident.