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Kerala village to host water conference
George Iype in Kochi | November 11, 2003 16:11 IST
Plachimada, a village in Palakkad district, Kerala, which has been fighting Coca-Cola for the past one year, will host a world water conference in January 2004.
Indian environmentalists led by Vandana Shiva, who are preparing to organise the conference, say thousands of activists from around the world will attend the conference.
"The conference will redefine the poor people's fight for water for survival in India and the world," says Shiva.
Some 1,000 households, most of them tribal and poor, have being carrying out an extraordinary water protest daily in front of Coca-Cola's bottling plant at Plachimada.
When the plant was set up in a 16-hectare compound in the middle of the village more than three years ago, villagers were excited.
But wells across Plachimada have now dried up.
Environmentalists say the factory is guzzling underwater resources through dozens of bore wells.
According to environmental group Greenpeace, which is helping the villagers fight Coca-Cola, villages like Plachimada in Kerala have a lot of groundwater because they are close to many reservoirs and irrigation canals.
"But the Coke plant is drawing 1.5 million litres of water everyday from the common groundwater resource through dozens of bore wells. Coke's water mining has parched the lands of more than 2000 people residing within 1.2 miles of the factory," a Greenpeace report said in October.
Greenpeace activist Ameer Shahul says the plant is an example of capitalist greed. "The water the company draws from the villages' underground sources comes free of any charge. If Coca-Cola is charged for groundwater at even a fraction of the price at which the company sells it as soft drink, it would have to pay millions of rupees," Shahul told rediff.com
Shahul says water contamination is also a problem.
"Purification of groundwater, preparation of the bottled drink, cleaning used bottles and other activities generate a large amount of polluted water and chemical waste. There are plastic, paper, metallic and other solid wastes generated in the factory," he says.
But Coca-Cola India vice-president, public affairs and communications, Sunil Gupta denies that the plant is using 1.5 million litres a day. "We use only 300,000 litres of water every day. In fact, the government has allowed the plant to use about 500,000 per day," Gupta says.
The company insists it is doing its bit for the community's development -- hiring 250 people at the plant and harvesting rainwater.
But A Krishnan, president of Perumatty panchayat under which Plachimada falls, says there is no way to inspect how much water is the company guzzling.
"We will not allow Coke to get away by ruining our village. We are now preparing to host water activists from across the world. It will be India's biggest anti-cola conference," Krishnan told rediff.com
More reports from Kerala