Eighteen village councils in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh are demanding a local Coca-Cola bottling plant be prohibited from extracting water from the ground, claiming its over usage has led to water scarcity in the area, said an environmental campaign group.
The villages, which are located in Mehdiganj area of Varanasi district – the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – claim they have been facing water shortages since 1999 when the plant began operations.
“Elected village council heads represent the voice of the people, and they are clear that Coca-Cola is not welcome in Mehdiganj. It is time for Coca-Cola to pack up and leave,” said Amit Srivastava of the California-based India Resource Center, which is supporting the village councils.
“Coca-Cola paints a pretty picture of itself internationally as a responsible user of water, but the reality in India is that it exploits groundwater at the expense of the poor, the women, children, farmers and livestock who have to live with less water because Coca-Cola mines groundwater in a water scarce area for profit.”
Mehdiganj is largely agrarian and communities here rely on groundwater to meet most of their needs, including for personal drinking and washing, irrigation and for livestock.
Coca-Cola uses the same groundwater source to meet its production needs — placing it in direct competition with the local community, environmentalists say.
Srivastava said the 18 village councils had written to State Pollution Control Board, which granted a license to Coca-Cola, urging authorities to prohibit the company from extracting any more groundwater in the area.
He also pointed to recent data released by the Central Ground Water Authority which declared Arajiline block, where the bottling plant in located, as “over exploited” in 2011.
Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd said a 2012 study by another authority called the Central Ground Water Board into a complaint by villagers of ponds, wells and hand pumps drying up found no evidence that the company was responsible.
“The Central Ground Water Board observed that this depletion was not due to withdrawal of ground water by Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd (HCCBPL) plant,” said a company statement emailed to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The report further mentioned there was a clear trend of water depletion in seven blocks of Varanasi district and particularly in Arajiline block, the rate was higher.”
Despite the decline, the report also said there was enough water in ponds, dug-wells and good crops of wheat and mustard were observed in the fields, the statement added.