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Coke, Pepsi charged with depleting water level in Kerala villages
George Iype in Kochi |
May 23, 2003 17:53 IST
Coca-Cola and Pepsi, two of the most prominent American brands in India, are fighting a very different battle for survival in Kerala.
The two companies' plants have been charged with depleting the underground water levels in two villages in the state and may be forced to relocate elsewhere.
The Pudussery panchayat in Kerala's Palakkad district has annulled the licence of the Pepsi plant in the village citing 'over-exploitation of water resources.'
Similarly, the local panchayat administration has refused to renew the licence of the Coca-Cola plant at Plachimada village saying that the Coke plant is depleting the ground water in the region.
Pepsi and Coke officials claim that the campaign against them is politically motivated and taken up by Marxist leaders, and that there is no scientific proof of water depletion in the Palakkad villages.
But the Communist Party of India-Marxist leaders who have launched an agitation against the Pepsi-Coke investments in the state say that if the cola plants in the villages continue to operate, villagers will be without drinking water in the next few years.
Marxist leaders claim their fight against the cola giants is not a part of their 'anti-globalisation campaign.'
"Our campaign is not against the investments by cola companies in Kerala. The main problem is that these companies are producing their products in Kerala by exploiting the ground water system of the villages," CPI-M leader Paloli Mohammedkutty told rediff.com.
According to the Marxist leader, the villagers in and around Plachimada and Pudussery where the Coke and Pepsi plants are situated, respectively, "are facing acute water shortage."
"Water is precious and colas cannot replace drinking water," he said.
But Coke officials who moved the Kerala high court recently to reverse the administration's decision to cancel its licence point out that the charges against the company are 'baseless.'
Coca-Cola has released studies saying the Marxist allegations of depleting ground water resources in Palakkad is a political move to throw out the plant from the state.
Dubbing the Marxists 'extremists,' a Coke statement recently said that neighbouring communities, tribal leaders, voluntary groups, environmental scientists and government officials have repeatedly stated that the Marxist allegations as false.
The company released studies done by the National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, which said that there is no field evidence of overexploitation of the groundwater reserves in the Coke plant area in Palakkad.
The latest investigation released by the Kerala State Groundwater Department has also rejected the allegation that one of the reasons for water shortage in the area is overexploitation by the plant.
Instead it points to 'poor rainfall during the last few years' as 'an important reason for the low water level in the open wells in the area.'
Coke officials pointed out that the Marxists have suddenly come out against the plant to gain political mileage. "In fact, sons of a number of local Marxist workers are employed in our plant. It is shameful that the Coke project, which was sanctioned by the previous Marxist government, is now being attacked in this way," a Coke official stated.
Similarly, Pepsi has also stated that the company has been continuously monitoring the water table depth. "We have observed that there is no depletion of the water table in the Kerala village," a Pepsi statement said.
But the Marxist leaders are adamant that they would not permit the Coke-Pepsi plants in the Palakkad villages to continue to use the groundwater.
"Overexploitation of water resources in the villages is causing severe drinking water shortage. We will not allow multinational companies to exploit our drinking water also," CPI-M Palakkad district leader K Unni told rediff.com.
The Kerala government has repeatedly requested the Marxist party -- that controls the villages where Coke and Pepsi plants are situated -- to allow the cola bottlers to carry on their business.
But increasing local opposition to the plants may now force both Coke and Pepsi to re-locate their plants from Palakkad to the neighbouring Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu.