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Kerala village plans unique protest against Coke
George Iype in Kochi |
January 20, 2004 16:18 IST
A remote village in Kerala that is locked in a legal battle with American soft drinks giant -- Coca-Cola -- is hosting a World Water Conference to show how multinational companies are over-exploiting natural wealth like groundwater in India.
Hundreds of activists from across the world are expected to participate in the three-day event that begins on January 21 at Plachimada in Kerala's Palakkad district.
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The conference is hosted by the Perumatty panchayat under which Plachimada village falls. A number of voluntary and environmental groups, non-governmental and social organisations are participating in the conference that will be inaugurated by Satu Hassi, former minister for environment, Finland.
Several political leaders, tribal organisations and India's leading environmentalists led by
Vandana Shiva will attend the conference and dwell on various subjects ranging from privatisation of water, climatic changes and environment, corporate control of water to check-dam implementation in India.
Perumatty panchayat president A Krishnan said that the conference is going to be a big international event because for the first time in the history of India a small village is hosting a world event to underline that multinational companies like Coca-Cola are exploiting Indian villages.
"We expect more than 5,000 people to participate in the conference. We want to tell the world that water is the most precious commodity in an Indian village and how here at Plachimada, the Coca-Cola plant is guzzling all our water," Krishnan told rediff.com on Tuesday.
Perumatty panchayat that controls several villages in Palakkad has been engaged in a legal battle with Coke for over a year now. The council alleges that the Coke plant at Plachimada village has been depleting groundwater leading to drying up of water in wells, ponds and canals.
According to Krishnan, villages like Plachimada have the largest groundwater resources thanks to their proximity to a number of reservoirs and irrigation canals.
But the Coke plant set up in 1998 is drawing 1.5 million liters of water everyday 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, Krishnan said.
When the panchayat threatened to cancel Coke's license last year, the Coke officials petitioned the court arguing that there was no field evidence of over-exploitation of groundwater reserves in the villages.
But last month, the Kerala high court asked Coca-Cola to stop using groundwater from the village and find alternative methods to generate water for its plant. The court also asked the company to install water meters at the plant to measure the amount of water it uses till it finds any alternative water sources.
The National Front for Tribal Self-rule, one of the organisations that is helping the village to organise the WWC said that the conference would discuss the impact of the Coca-Cola plant on health, economy, employment and agriculture of an Indian village.
NFTS convenor R Bijoy said that the conference is being seen as an Indian version of Cochabamba in Brazil, where local people struggled and succeeded in thwarting the commodification of their water resources.
He said many foreign delegates, who are currently attending the World Social Forum meet at Mumbai, would be attending the water conference.
Hundreds of thousands of activists and villagers are expected to hold a massive protest rally outside the Coke factory at Plachimada on January 22, the second day of the conference.The conference will discuss water exploitation by cola companies, river diversion and water as a right, not a commodity in India. There will be debates and talks by experts on globalisation and corporatisation, alternatives to water privatisation and also a review of the recent World Trade Organisation summit at Cancun.