The State also plans to move against PepsiCo for alleged environmental violations—including polluting of groundwater and over-consumption of water—in one of its factories in Kerala
India finally seems to be becoming more aware of environmental issues being caused by major multinational corporations operating in India. This is a welcome change from the way the country bungled on the Bhopal gas tragedy, with polluter Union Carbide getting away without even so much as a slap on the wrist, for the world's worst industrial disaster.
The Kerala government plans to set up a tribunal that will hear and award compensation claims against Coke for causing pollution and water depletion. However, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd (HCCB) is questioning the State government's action and is calling it 'biased'.
"We disagree with the recommendations of the High Powered Committee (HPC) and the proposed follow-up action. The said Committee, in our view, was set up with the pre-determined and unproven conclusion that the operations of HCCB have caused (a) loss to the residents of Plachimada (in Kerala's Palakkad district)," said Kamlesh Sharma, senior manager-public affairs & communications, HCCB, in a statement.
The statement further adds that the government committee or panel reviewing claims must determine through "scientific study and through established process of law" whether any damage was caused to the residents of Plachimada, and who was responsible for such damages.
The State Cabinet's decision is based on the report and recommendations of the HPC which was released on 22 March 2010, holding HCCB responsible for causing pollution and water depletion in Plachimada. The committee was headed by K Jayakumar, additional chief secretary, Kerala government.
The tribunal will consider claims of compensation from HCCB relating to water and air pollution, loss of agricultural crops and animals, diseases affecting human beings in the surrounding area due to the excess withdrawal and pollution of groundwater & surface water by the company, according to the report which has been accepted by the State government. The tribunal will also consider claims related to loss of wages and loss of educational opportunities.
As per the 'polluter pays principle', the HPC had suggested that HCCB be made liable for Rs216 crore (around $48 million) for damages caused by the company's bottling operations in Plachimada. According to officials from Kerala's water ministry, the tribunal will be set up within three to six months.
But Coke remains adamant. "This (action by the State) is in spite of the fact that numerous scientific studies by independent experts and investigations by the government of Kerala itself have shown that HCCB is not the cause of local watershed issues," Mr Sharma said in his statement.
Since March 2004, the HCCB bottling plant in Plachimada has remained shut due to the community-led campaign challenging HCCB's alleged abuse of water resources.
Local activists who have been involved in the campaign to shut down HCCB's bottling plant and hold the company accountable for the damage it has caused, welcomed the move by the State government. "Coca-Cola has been forced to shut down its operations in Plachimada since 2004, and no amount of legal manoeuvring will help it change the final outcome. The best thing Coca-Cola can do is to accept the will of the people and the State-pack up, pay up and leave," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organisation.
Coke's biggest competitor, PepsiCo, is also facing the heat in Kerala. The State is planning to take on PepsiCo's alleged environmental offences. NK Premachandran, Kerala's minister for water resources, told the State Assembly on Thursday (1st July) that the PepsiCo factory at Kanjikode (also situated in Kerala's Palakkad district) has been consuming water beyond the permitted norms and chemical effluents and solid waste from the factory have been polluting the groundwater.
The new Citizens' Charter will be a guiding rule book for the I-T department and its officials
Taxpayers whose premises have been searched or raided by the Income Tax (I-T) department can now expect to get possession of their sealed properties and assets in two months as compared to the usual duration of over a year, reports PTI.
The department is also planning to take steps to ensure return of seized and impounded account books—after completing final assessment—to assessees in two months' time while the taxpayer will also be allowed to operate his or her sealed premises and accounts within the same period.
These are some of the proposals which the department has mooted in its new draft Citizens' Charter that would be unveiled by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on 24th July during an I-T day function in New Delhi.
The department is expecting to "achieve minimum compliance level of 80% " for these time-frames and will also gradually enhance the compliance level for these services and others.
The issuance of refunds—a concern of a large number of taxpayers—will be achieved within nine months from the end of the month in which the application was received.
"The department is planning to bring down complaints and grievances of taxpayers. One major area to be addressed in the new charter of services is strict adherence to established time-frames," a senior I-T officer said.
After search and survey operations, the properties, accounts, movable and immovable assets of the assessee are sealed. Till the time the exact tax evasion is finalised and a demand is raised, a considerable number of assets lie unoperational. This will be checked, the officer added.
The new Citizens' Charter will be a guiding rule book for the department and its officials.
The finance minister, on 9th June while addressing the top brass of the department had said that subjects like tax refunds and credit of tax deducted at source (TDS) need to be attended on urgent basis.
The department will achieve the compliance of timeframes through close monitoring, use of information technology services and strengthening of back-end processes, an I-T officer said.
It is revising the Citizens' Charter after a period of three years and the current exercise holds prominence as the new Direct Taxes Code (DTC) replacing the 1961 I-T Act will be in place next year bringing in a slew of new measures in the administration of income tax in the country.
MIDC plans to invite bids for its planned 1,000MW power plant project in Maharashtra’s Chandrapur district. The corporation was earlier planning a power SEZ in this location, to ensure cheap power for the State
After initially announcing plans for developing a power special economic zone (SEZ), Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) has now scaled down its Chandrapur power project to a plain vanilla 1,000MW power plant. Bids for the private development of this power plant are expected to be called for this month.
"All the required clearances are on the way. Now we are going ahead to tender it out to the private sector," said Dr K Shivaji, chief executive officer, MIDC. The plant which is situated at Bhadrawati in Chandrapur district would be given out to private developers on a public-private partnership. The bids are likely to be invited this month.
In 2006, MIDC had announced plans for setting up power SEZs. However, four years later, the government body has scrapped the power SEZ plan and is now developing the Chandrapur project as a simple power plant.
Power SEZs were first planned in order to produce cheap power in the State. A power SEZ would have allowed using duty fuel in producing power. In addition, the construction costs would have also reduced considerably as the material used for plant construction would have also been duty-free. "This will help us to generate power at a cheaper rate," Rajiv Jalota, former chief executive officer, MIDC, was quoted as saying in a media report in 2006.
At present, Maharashtra faces a peak power deficit of 24.4% or 4,724MW and an energy deficit of 21.5% or 2,609MW. While around 2,100MW of power has been added in the State during the 10th Five Year Plan, there has been no contribution from the private sector. Major cities in the State face issues like load-shedding for several hours, due to the acute power shortage.
This 1,000MW capacity to be added through the power SEZ would have been significant and economical for the State. As per Central Electricity Authority (CEA) data, the State's energy requirement is around 12,132MW out of which around 9,523MW is available.
Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) chairman VP Raja has also emphasised the need for power projects to fructify on time, to ensure better power supply in the State. "For the State to become power sufficient, there are enough projects on the table at present, but the original ground-level issues like land acquisitions are a concern. There are a lot of projects on the shelf, but how many of them fructify (is to be seen)," he had said in an interview with Moneylife.