If the courts admit the complaint filled by Kerala police against Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, the bottling arm of Coca-Cola India, and its senior executives, this will be the first instance when the stringent provisions of the Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act 2015, will be put to test.
Legal experts point out that this could also open up "a can of worms" for several disputed mining and infrastructure projects in tribal-dominated areas. The amended Act was notified in April this year. Any offence against SCs and STs is non-bailable and punishable under provisions of the Indian Penal Code. Anybody booked under this Act goes through a trial in a special court within 60 days of filing of the chargesheet. The amended Act prescribes higher compensation for offences, ranging anywhere between Rs 85,000 and Rs 8,25,000.
"If the case is admissible in the court of law, this will be the first time that the stringent provisions of the amended SC/ST Act will apply," said a lawyer who specialises in environment laws. Another legal expert, who has closely tracked the more than a decade long dispute around the Coca-Cola plant in Plachimada, noted the latest development seems to be an "after-thought" to claim damages for the local community. The state government had estimated that the disputed plant had caused an estimated loss to the tune of Rs 216.25 crore to the local economy.
One offence recognised under the amended Act includes any measure that "corrupts or fouls the water of any spring, reservoir or any other source ordinarily used by members of the SC or the ST so as to render it less fit for the purpose for which it is ordinarily used". Legal experts note that the FIR could cite this provision in the law to claim damages from Coca-Cola India. Plachimada has sizable backward SC population.
Commenting on the potential impact the provisions of this Act could have on disputed projects in SC/ST-dominated areas, a legal expert said no corporate executive would want to get involved in a project that could potentially prosecute him in a criminal case.