Supreme Court slams Kerala govt over delay in relief to victims of endosulfan

Supreme Court slams Kerala govt over delay in relief to victims of endosulfan

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday scoffed at the Kerala government’s approach of being a welfare state as the Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left government failed to show compliance of a January 2017 order requiring them to compensate victims who suffered tragic after-effects of endosuflan pesticide, besides setting up medical facilities to treat these persons for life-time complications involving cancer, mental derailment and physical disability.

Upset over the state’s inaction, a bench of justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant said, “All your activity started after we issued notice on the contempt petition. This should not be the approach of a welfare state.”

The court order came on a contempt petition filed by eight victims who wanted implementation of the January 10, 2017 judgment directing payment of 5 lakh compensation to every affected victim of endosulfan.

The state government filed a compliance report this week before the top court identifying 3,714 victims who were yet to receive compensation. The eight victims who approached the top court in a contempt petition were paid the compensation amount only in April this year.

The state’s report indicated that many among the victims need serious medical attention as among the 3,700 odd victims there were persons who were bedridden (102), mentally retarded (326), physically disabled (201), cancer patients (119), and the residual category with health complications (2,966).

“A large number of victims have not been provided compensation despite passage of five years. Most victims are from marginalized sections of society who are in pitiable conditions and require compensation immediately. Why do these people have to come to Delhi to get justice,” the bench said.

As the state’s report was prepared by chief secretary VP Joy, the bench directed him to hold monthly meetings to ensure compliance with the 2017 judgment and file a report by the next date of hearing in the third week of July.

The judgment had directed three steps – identification of victims, disbursal of 5 lakh compensation to each victim, and setting up medical facilities to deal with the long-term health effects arising from the effects of endosulfan.

The court also directed the state to additionally compensate the eight contempt petitioners with a cost of 50,000 each for the delayed payment after five years. The court found no logic in the state’s decision to compensate them first. It said, “We fail to understand the logic or rationale of the state to pay compensation to the contempt petitioners who have the resources to approach this court.”

The bench added, “There are a large number of victims who cannot afford to come here. Why are you compelling people to come to this court for compensation? These are victims of endosulfan, some of them who have serious health concerns and who are mentally ill.”

The state missed several deadlines in the past to honour its commitment to pay compensation. When the case was heard last month, the Kerala government sought four weeks’ time to comply with the 2017 directions. Advocate Nishe Rajen Shonkar appearing for the state pointed out that as per the existing government orders, the rate of compensation provided was different according to the disabilities. A decision was taken on March 24 this year to pay all victims 5 lakh as per the 2017 SC decision.

Shonkar told the court that the state government had allotted additional authorisation of 200 crore for meeting the compensation payout to the affected victims of endosulfan. A team of officials of the health and revenue departments also verified the details of the 3,714 victims.

The bench said, “All your decisions are only on books. The money has to be released. Five years have gone by since our judgment. Many victims would have died. Even the number of victims is bound to increase over a period of time.”

The court was also upset that no palliative care facility was provided to these victims either as directed by it earlier. “You (state) have not provided any details of steps taken to provide medical help and rehabilitation to the victims.”

The state counsel said that there is a hospital belonging to Tata Group which was used during Covid pandemic by the state. “A portion of it can be used for treating these victims,” Shonkar said.

The contempt petitioners, who approached the court last year through advocate PS Sudheer, were residents of the 15 villages in Kerala’s Kasargod district where endosulfan poisoning was caused by aerial spraying of this pesticide in cashew plantations owned by the Plantation Corporation of India. Incidentally, the 2017 judgment had come on a petition filed by the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), which is the youth wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), currently ruling the state.

The PIL by DYFI pointed out the adverse effects caused by endosulfan were causing serious health disorders and posing grave risk to reproductive system leading to congential deformities. At the time when the judgment was passed, there were over 6,000 persons officially identified as endosulfan-affected victims.

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