04 An open rejoinder by S.Faizi (Environmental Expert Member: Kerala Groundwater Authority; Chairman: Indian Biodiversity Forum)

From:* S Faizi [mailto:ecology@dataone.in]
*Sent:* Thursday, March 05, 2009 10:13 AM
*To:* 'tharoor.assistant@gmail.com'
*Subject:* Coca Cola/Plachimada: An open rejoinder to Mr Shashi Tharoor

R2 Saundarya Apartments
(Environmental Expert Member:
Kerala Groundwater Authority;
Chairman: Indian Biodiversity Forum)

Mr.Shashi Tharoor

Afras Ventures
230 Park Avenue, Suite 2525
New York, NY 10169

Dear Mr Tharoor,

I have read with interest your response to the Plachimada Struggle
Solidarity Committee’s criticism of your being in a PR project of the Coca
Cola company in India, in Hindu and the full text on a web site that carries
your PR material. I do not have a grain of opposition to your being in the
cola PR outfit, for it is natural for people like to you to be in places
like that. However, I am writing this public response to you in order to
address the misinformation contained in your letter, outdoing even the PR
staff of the company, and the unwarranted sweeping remarks you have made on
Kerala development.

The High Court Division Bench verdict in favour of the company that you have
referred to was made subsequent to a single bench verdict against the
company. And the Division Bench verdict is being challenged in the Supreme
Court by the Perumatti Panchayat and by the people’s groups agitating
against the company. The CWRDM-lead report was flawed in many respects, as
is being argued in the SC, which is also an issue of concern for CWRDM
scientists as the institution has suffered an erosion of credibility. The
very assumption of the report, in estimating the total groundwater
availability in Chitoor block, that 20 per cent of the rainfall can be
recharged is flawed as the Central Groundwater Board’s (CGWB) assessment in
2003 had put the recharge in areas such as Chitoor at 5-8 per cent. While
the committee report put the annual recharge in the block at 74.1 million
cubic meters (mcm), based on the CGWB’s scientific estimation of recharge
rate it is only between 16.6 to 33.2 mcms. The report also suppresses the
domestic and agricultural water needs. The central question in the High
Court case was not as much about pollution and depletion of water resources,
land pollution by heavy metals, or the right to life provision of the
Constitution, as about the power of the local panchayat to ask for the
closure of the factory. The Groundwater Dept, in a report on the groundwater
of Palakkad dist prepared in 2006, presented an alarming picture of the
state of groundwater in Chitoor block.

The legal status of groundwater has rightly become that of a public resource
with the enactment of the Kerala Groundwater Act which came into force in
2003. However, this law (as well as several other points from the
environmental jurisprudence) was not considered in the High Court case.
Groundwater was considered as a private resource, while the said law asserts
it as a public resource over which the appropriate agencies of the State
have control in public interest. And this change in the legal status of
groundwater is also going to be examined by the apex court.

You attempt to deny the toxic sludge. However, the Supreme Court Monitoring
Committee (SCMC), in its report following its site visit in August 2004, had
determined the presence of heavy metals (cadmium and lead) in the sludge,
and this was distributed by the cunning company to the unsuspecting farmers
as ‘fertiliser’. And the State Pollution Control Board had directed the
company to cease operations. The pollution of the well waters around the
factory was reported by independent labs and the SPCB also confirmed it by
asking the people not to use the water of the panchayat well it had tested.

I visited the area two weeks ago as a member of the expert committee
attached to the State SC/ST Commission and found the situation of the local
people, ST/SC in particular, extremely worrying- there is hardly any water
in the wells and where it is present it is not usable. Pollution of drinking
water is a crime under the SC/ST (Atrocities) Act. On 14-9-2004 the company
agreed to provide piped water to the residents of the area and the KPCB
had constituted a committee to oversee this activitiy. This was upon the
instruction of the SCMC, obviously as a compensation for the water crisis
caused by the company and it was not contingent upon the functioning of the
factory. The company reneged on this agreement too.

Polluter Pays Principle has become an integral part of our jurisprudence.
The Rio Declaration (principle 16) upholds this as well as the liability and
redress provision of the Biodiversity Convention (I had been a negotiator in
the formulation of both), among other multilateral soft laws and treaties.
And this is squarely applicable in the case of Coca Cola at Plachimada. This
was why the Kerala Goundwater Authority, after study by a subcommittee,
recommended to the govt at its 13th meeting in Oct 2008 that compensation
should be obtained from the company, on behalf of the people, for the
pollution and groundwater depletion it has caused. It also recommended to
make a comprehensive, multidisciplinary assessment of the damage caused by
the company to the environment, human health and agriculture. Bringing an
offender to justice is in the best common interest of business lest the law
abiding competitors are left at a disadvantage.

Your reference to the Global Compact was interesting. But you have carefully
withheld the information from your readers that this was a project that was
fiercely opposed by the civil society organizations. It was not a legitimate
UN activity, negotiated and agreed by a policy setting body such as the GA.
It was part of a series of initiatives to diminish the importance of the
need for corporate bodies complying with the domestic laws of the countries,
by introducing and promoting a voluntary code of conduct. It was also part
of the move to whittle away the powers of multilateral bodies such as
UNCTAD, supported by the developing countries. As a corporate boss you will
be proud to have promoted the Global Compact, but its real twin role as a
greenwash and as a means to belittle the importance of legal compliance is
obvious to the public. Corporate responsibility is a crooked term, what the
citizens expect from the corporates is corporate accountability to the laws
of the country. If Coca Cola, for example, is willing to comply with the
laws of the country, pay for the public resources it has used at the market
rate and pay compensation for the damages it has caused that will more than
suffice, we don’t need the Cola to take any responsibility for our

As for your remarks on Kerala’s development scene, it was certainly uncalled
for. Kerala is one of the most globalised societies in the world, and we
were at the centre of open global trade until 500 years ago when the
Europeans came as savage invaders displacing the Arab traders. Your
accusations of Kerala as ‘over-politicised’ and this as a reason for an
imaginary discouragement of investment in the state are amusing right wing
cliché that fit very well with the intellectual immaturity that
characterizes your writings. It is an insult to India’s unity that you are
ashamed that Keralites work in other parts of the India. It is diametrically
opposed to the spirit of Kerala’s globalism that you are ashamed of our
people working in the Gulf and other countries. But you are saying this
sitting in an American city and heading a business firm in Gulf. And you
claim to be a Keralite when your web site proudly announces your fluency in
English and French but does not even mention Malayalam though our language
and its literature has a longer history than English. But such
contradictions are typical of an intellectual simpleton’s writings. The
Kerala model of development is an unavoidable term in the international
development discourse, not the least the UN’s, but you are blissfully
uninformed even about this. In child mortality, for example, we fare better
than the US city you live in. Empowerment thru political conscientisation is
at the core of the relatively high development indices we have achieved.
Your understanding of India, as seen in your writings, is no deeper than a
western tourist’s.

Let me refer to just a couple of such writings. In one of your articles you
have chauvinistically chided Indian women for giving up sari for western
dress. Even such chauvinistic opinions I have no problem in tolerating but
the fun is when you see the photo of the author of the silly article dressed
in western suit and neck tie totally alien to traditional male attire! And
in a subsequent article you narrated an anecdote where your Danish boss in
the UN abused the Indian kurta you wore as a surgeon’s coat and that made
you resolve not to wear the traditional Indian dress any more. As a
committed supporter of the UN cause and as a some times participant in UN
events, I take offence in the incident you narrated and your acceptance of
the same. As a multilateral body the UN respects the multiple cultures, and
if someone derogatively talked about a country’s traditional dress he should
not have been on the UN staff any longer, if someone had set a norm like
that it should have been brought to the attention of the concerned decision
making body. UN events indeed are also the occasion you find the most
fabulous traditional dress of women and men from west African nations, the
various Arab traditional dresses fromMorocco to Yemen, the elegant sheravni,
sari and churidar from south Asia, and so on. I myself presided over a youth
conference organized by Unesco/UNEP in Moscow in 1987 (part of Tbilisi+10)
wearing a white cotton kurta/pyjama, and nobody cared about what I wore (I
wouldn’t have allowed it either). And your sectarian mindset blamed the
Punjabis for giving masculine names for their daughters, forgetting that
what you have done with your own name isn’t anything different. Sasi is how
the masculine name is spelt in Kerala while Shashi, the way you spell it, is
a feminine name in north India!

Your reply talks of the anti-Cola activists scoring some political point. No
one can read any party politics in their letter, the Plachimada anti-Cola
struggle is beyond divisions along party politics. The ruling LDF supports
the Plachimada cause as much as the opposition UDF. And in the struggle
itself you find people of all political affiliations and creeds. We are all
one on the issue of justice, but you cannot perhaps understand that. But if
you are talking about politics with your ambition to get a seat in the
forthcoming Parliament election in view, I wish the Congress party gives you
a ticket, for it deserves you. That will be a good self punishment for the
Congress party for having allowed you once to embarrass the country with
your UN election.

Best regards