Cola giants in deep water

Himalayan News Service

New Delhi, May 3:

Civil society activists in India announced a countrywide alliance against multinational cola giants — Pepsi and Coke - for rampant exploitation of underground water. Protests are already on in Kerala, Rajasthan, Bihar and Haryana against the companies for depleting the water table beyond the recommended level. Activists from different parts of the country, led by noted environmentalist Vandana Shiva, gathered at New Delhi’s Gandhi Peace Foundation and announced the launch of a consolidated national response against 58 Coke and 32 Pepsi plants across India.

Shiva, founder and head of a leading research foundation, said, “Individual movements against these companies and their illegal overdrawing of water has started in many places. But now we are setting up a national consolidation because we want to multiply our Plachimada victory at all the other places too.” Plachimada is a village in the Kerala that had witnessed a conflict between a cola plant over the issue of alleged overuse of ground water.

A long drawn agitation by locals there had led to the closure of the plant. Sawai Singh from Rajastan said, “In the area around the Jaipur plant, ground water used to be available at a depth of 20 feet till a few years back when the plant was set up.

Now, due to large-scale over-drawing, water has receded to 90 feet under the ground. And now only the Coke company has the funds to do the extensive drilling needed to reach the water table, leaving the people around the area waterless.” Gorelal Manish, an activist from Bihar said, “At railway stations, we have ourselves seen people sent by the companies to destroy public taps, so that the thirsty travellers buy their bottled drinks.”

As part of the campaign against these companies, organisations have also started a youth movement where they are encouraged not to drink the colas. In a bid to reduce the consumption of the bottled drinks, they have also launched a crusade to promote and popularise the healthy and indigenous drinks such as lemon juice and ‘lassi’. Shiva said, “I think lemon juice should be made the national drink. It is refreshing, plus it does not have the phosphoric acid that these bottled drinks contain.”