Indefinite Vigil Against Coca-Cola in India
Community Demands Immediate Closure of Coca-Cola Bottling Plant
For Immediate Release
March 23, 2006
Nandlal Master, Lok Samiti (Hindi only) +91 94153 00520 (Translations
can be arranged by contacting Amit Srivastava)
Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center +1 415 336 7584 (US) E: info@IndiaResource.org
San Francisco (March 23, 2006): The community of
Mehdiganj in northern India has launched an indefinite vigil against
a Coca-Cola bottling plant today, demanding that the plant be permanently
Nearly five hundred community members set up a large tent in front
of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj, near the Indian holy
city of Varanasi. The protesters have declared that they will carry
on the protest night and day until the plant is shut down.
Accusing the company of creating severe water shortages and polluting
the water and land around the bottling plant, the community is demanding
the closure of the bottling plant prior to the summer months, when
the plant is expected to reach peak production capacity.
"The communities are experiencing severe water shortages already and
a company like Coca-Cola should not be allowed to extract water from
the groundwater resource, particularly in summer when water is scarce.
The government should intervene immediately and order the plant to
shut down", said Nandlal Master of the local community organization,
Lok Samiti, the key organizer of the protests.
According to community members, groundwater levels have dropped more
than 12 meters since Coca-Cola's started operations. The results have
been severe water shortages affecting at least 20 villages surrounding
Coca-Cola's bottling plant. The communities also hold Coca-Cola responsible
for polluting the water and soil, which have affected the agricultural
production as well as public health in the area. Government authorities
and the courts have also ruled that Coca-Cola has acquired agricultural
land illegally and evaded taxes in the area.
The Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj, which draws nearly 250,000
liters of water per day according to some estimates, has been the target of the community for
nearly five years. Thousands of people have protested the plant in
the past, including a major protest on November 24, 2004 in which
the police resorted to violence and over 300 people were detained.
Interestingly, a Coca-Cola company official, Mr. Kalyan Ranjan, announced
on January 6, 2006 that "There is no agitation in Mehandiganj" and
that "Coca-Cola is an integral part of the social fabric of Mehandiganj."
The Coca-Cola company officials have acknowledged the presence of
a strong campaign against the bottling plant in the past, and the
latest announcement denying the presence of community opposition is
viewed as a new public relations strategy by the company.
"We reject the notion that a public relations strategy by Coca-Cola
will solve the growing crisis in India," said Amit Srivastava of the
India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization working
directly with community groups in India affected by Coca-Cola's practices.
"Just saying there is not campaign against them will not make it go
away. The international campaign to put pressure on the company will
continue to grow until Coca-Cola admits the liabilities it continues
to incur in India."
The Coca-Cola company is the target of many communities in India who
have held it responsible for creating severe water shortages and pollution.
One of Coca-Cola's largest bottling plants in India, in Plachimada
in south India, has been shut down since March 2004 due to community
The campaigns in India enjoy widespread support internationally, and
Coca-Cola's sponsorship of the just concluded World Water Forum in
Mexico came under attack by campaigners as a public relations move.
Coca-Cola's relationship with water was described as "unsustainable".
Colleges and universities in the US and UK are also campaigning to
revoke contracts with the Coca-Cola company until they meet the demands
of the communities in India. On January 1, 2006, the University of
Michigan suspended its contract with the Coca-Cola company.
Touting rainwater harvesting initiatives is central to Coca-Cola's
public relations strategy in India. Although Coca-Cola claims that
rainwater harvesting returns a "substantial" part of their water use,
when asked how much rainwater was harvested in Mehdiganj, Mr. Kalayan
Ranjan of Coca-Cola announced that 7 million liters of water was harvested
last year. Even taking a conservative figure of 250,000 liters of water per day that Coca-Cola extracts, the recharge figure given by the Coca-Cola company doesn't even meet the company's water needs for a month. "Coca-Cola's claim of substantially returning the water they use through rainwater harvesting is plain hogwash," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center.
In the past, Coca-Cola has claimed that its operations
in Mehdiganj have even resulted in increasing the water table levels.
"Rainwater harvesting is simply not enough to balance Coca-Cola's
water needs. If they believe in what they say, let them use only rainwater
to meet their water needs," said Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti.
Residents of over 30 villages will continue to take shifts in maintaining
the permanent vigil outside Coca-Cola's bottling plant.
For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org
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