Reprinted from www.corpwatch.org
Coca-Cola, the world's largest beverage producer, has been ordered to shut down its bottling plant in Varanasi, India following local complaints that the company was drawing excessive amounts of groundwater. After an investigation, government authorities ruled that the company had violated its operating license.
Activists hailed the victory. "We knew it was a matter of time before the government acknowledged the demands of the community. This is a great victory and a welcome confirmation that local communities can successfully take on big, powerful businesses," Nandlal Master, an activist from Lok Samiti, told the India Resource Center, an activist group.* "We are looking forward to reclaiming the community-owned land that belongs rightfully to the people. We will not rest until Coca-Cola is evicted."
This is not the first time that the company has been in trouble in India for unsustainable water extraction practices. In 2004 a bottling plant in Plachimada, Kerala, was closed for excessive water consumption. Later Kerala passed legislation that allows Coca-Cola to be sued for as much as $47 million in damages as result of the operations. And last year, community organizers in Charba, Uttarakhand, defeated Coca-Cola's plans to build a new factory as soon as the proposal went public.
Indian activists have long complained that Coca-Cola's water extraction policies -- the company uses three liters of water to make one liter of Coke - are burdening an already water-scarce country. Such excessive water extraction directly threatens farmers -- 70 percent of India's population -- who rely on water as a key component for their agricultural output.
The Mehdiganj plant, located in the northeast state of Uttar Pradesh, has been one such source of anger for the community near Varanasi ever since Coca-Cola began operations in 1999. Numerous protests and letter writing campaigns petitioned the state government to reject Coca-Cola's application to expand water extraction on grounds that current operations have already adversely impacted farmers. Local villagers also claimed that the Mehdiganj plant was built illegally on village council land.