Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 24: In rare legislation targetting a corporate giant, the Kerala Assembly on Thursday passed a bill to set up a special tribunal to realise compensation from Coca-Cola for the "losses" its plant at Plachimada caused to people in the area.
Reacting to the development, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Ltd (HCCB) said the legislation was not based on scientific data or established processes of law but the company was still ready to engage with the stake-holders on the issue.
The CPI(M)-led LDF government rushed through the bill on the final day of the present assembly while the House was in uproar with Congress-led UDF opposition pressing for an adjournment on a different issue.
The bill was based on the recommendations of a high power committee, headed by a senior bureaucrat, which found that a loss of Rs 216.16 crore had been caused by the plant of the Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages at Plachimada village in Palakkad district.
The bill, titled "The Plachimada Coca Cola Victims Relief and Compensation Claims Tribunal Bill 2011," said the plant had caused environmental and soil degradation and water contamination due to over-extraction of ground water leading to drinking water scarcity and decline in agriculture due to disposal of sludge which contained metals like cadmium, lead and chromium.
It said the sludge disposal also affected health of people causing skin ailments, breathing problems and other disabilities. The special tribunal was intended to settle all disputes on problems caused by the plant within a fixed time limit.
The Plachimada plant has been virtually dysfunctional for the last several years following prolonged agitations by resistance groups including tribal and legal battles against extraction of ground water by the company. At one point of time, the state government even banned production and sale of cola but it was lifted later following a High Court order.
The bill was returned to the House on Thursday after consideration of a Subject Committee which had on it members from both ruling and opposition sides.
The three-member tribunal will have powers to consider petitions for compensation or restitution of property damaged, against the company, arising out of grievances due to violation of laws relating to environment, air and water pollution.
A release from HCCB said "We are disappointed in the Plachimada Tribunal Bill and the flawed process on which it is based. This bill is devoid of facts, scientific data or any input from or consideration given to the company."
It said the company was never offered an opportunity to present facts, engage in dialogue or share independent data before the bill was tabled or passed.