Coca-Cola Must Pay Damages, Says Panel
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: 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
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
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.
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