High time Plachimada Bill got Presidential consent
Plachimada has become a symbol of ecological and social justice in times of a predatory and extractive economy stealing the last drop of water, the last seed, and the last inch of land from the poor. Mylamma and her courageous sisters undertook a Satyagraha to stop the water theft by Coca-Cola, and they shut down the plant. I was privileged to have been able to offer solidarity for this historic struggle.
But there will be true justice for Plachimada when the Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill 2011 unanimously passed by the Kerala Assembly gets Presidential consent. Corporates have to be stopped from stealing people’s resources. They must also pay compensation for the social, ecological and health damage they have caused. It is a tragedy that even after five years this important Bill has not got Presidential assent. Since the state has a duty to protect the Right to Life of citizens under Article 1 of the Constitution, Kerala should go ahead and implement the Bill.
After all, the Andhra Pradesh government did not seek the Centre’s consent when it made a seed law to prevent Monsanto from collecting illegal and unjust royalties.
There is a tendency, under the pressure of giant corporations like Coca-Cola and Monsanto to deregulate corporate activities. We have seen the consequences of this in the case of Monsanto and GMO seeds. More than 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide since Monsanto was given free play to establish monopolies, charge illegal royalties, trap farmers in debt and drive them to suicide.
In the case of Coca-Cola, corporate freedom translates into theft of water, its pollution with heavy metals, disease, longer walks by women in search for clean drinking water. The extractive, exploitative corporate economy based on theft of what belongs to the people needs concentration of power, and an undermining of the rights and powers of local communities through traditional common law, through the Panchayati Raj Institutions, and the power of states under India’s federal structure.
When the Perumatty panchayat used its constitutional rights to serve notice to Coca-Cola, and then filed a public interest litigation in the High Court of Kerala, it was acting under its constitutional duties. On December 16, 2003, Justice Balakrishnan Nair ordered Coca-Cola to stop pirating Plachimada’s water, citing the public trust doctrine.
It was under this doctrine and the public pressure of movements that on February 17, 2004, the Chief Minister of Kerala ordered the closure of the Coca-Cola plant in Plachimada. But the process of justice needs one more step for completion- the implementation of the Plachimada Bill. This is important for Plachimada and the world.
Global corporations like Coca-Cola are pushing new free trade agreements like TPP and TTIP to introduce absolute corporate rights through Investor State Dispute Mechanisms. Corporations want the right to sue governments outside national jurisdictions, in secret tribunals, if states protect the rights of their people under their constitutions.
The letter from the Union Home Ministry to the Kerala government ‘requesting’ it to withdraw the Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill, 2011, constitutes a glaring act of subversion of the constitutional process. The reasons raised by the Union Home Ministry are an outlandish repeat of the MNC’s ‘legal opinion’ it had submitted to the UPA government. As Dr S Faizi, expert member, Plachimada High Power Committee, has pointed out “the Centre is seeking to subvert the Constitutional process.”
"The Home Ministry provides gratuitous advice to the state government- in line with the multinational’s ‘legal opinion’- to approach the National Green Tribunal. This reveals the sad fact that the Home Ministry officials have not even read the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. Section 15.3 of the Act requires the petitions for compensation to be filed within five years, with a grace period of six months."
"The most critical damage to groundwater and toxic contamination caused by the Cola company at Plachimada occurred during 2000-2004, much before the five years and six months time bar set by the Act and therefore this Act cannot be used to redress the tragedy at Plachimada. And it may be recalled that the NGT became operational only in May 2011. The Home Ministry officials and their legal advisors should be held accountable for deliberately misinforming a State government."
There is absolutely no conflict between the NGT Act and the Bill, primarily due to the difference in the temporal coverage, in fact by filling the time gap in regard to the Plachimada locale the Bill provides an excellent complement to the NGT Act. The Bill does not by any means come in conflict with the Centre’s powers as provided by Articles 253 and 246; it flows from the state’s constitutional responsibility to act upon the violation of the Article 21 and has got nothing to do with any international declaration.
The Home Ministry repeating the challenge of the Cola company that the State Assembly has no legislative competence to enact legislation to redress the damage in the areas of health, agriculture, labour (loss), animal husbandry, groundwater etc, all listed in the State List (II under the 7th Schedule) poses a serious question on Centre-State relations, and all democratic forces should be concerned about this.
It is at the Centre that global corporations bring their influence to block justice to local communities. It is from the states that steps to stop the hijack of our resources and democracy must be initiated. The Plachimada Bill is about more than Plachimada. It is about the future of justice, sustainability and democracy. I am sure the Centre will stop obstructing the implementation of the Plachimada Bill and recognise the rights and duties of Kerala to shape another future for humanity based on the defence of people’s rights and our Constitution.
(The two paragraphs starting with “The Home Ministry..” and ending with “…a State government.” were posted as part of the article. These two paragraphs should have been attributed to Dr S Faizi, who has been quoted in the previous paragraph. Punctuation error while posting is regretted.)