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Fact Finding Team on the Coca-Cola Company's Franchisee Bottling Plant in Sinhachawar, Balia, Uttar Pradesh, India

India Resource Center
June 4, 2007

Illegal Dumping of Sludge at Coca-Cola Bottling Plant- An Environmental Conscious Company?
Illegal Dumping of Sludge at Coca-Cola Bottling Plant- An Environmentally Responsible Company?

Fact Finding Team


  1. Twenty Residents of Sinhachawar Village, Balia District, Uttar Pradesh
  2. Gopal Krishna, scholar from Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU, New Delhi
  3. Nandlal Master, Lok Samiti, Rajatalab, Varanasi
  4. Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center, San Francisco, USA

Introduction

Sinhachawar is a village in Sinhachawar panchayat (village council) in Ballia district in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Ballia district is one of 70 districts of this state in the Azamgarh Division. Bhojpuri, a dialect of Hindi, is the language of Ballia. It is part of the parliamentary constituency of Mr. Chandra Shekhar, former Prime Minister of India.

Fact Finding Survey


On May 24, 2007, the Fact Finding Team visited the village of Sinhachawar, in Balia district in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Sinhachawar is located about 140 kms east of Varanasi. Members of the village, including the head of the gram panchayat (village council), Mrs. Chinta Devi, invited us to share their problems with a local bottling plant on the outskirts of the village manufacturing Coca-Cola products.

We attended a community meeting at a school just adjacent to the bottling plant. Some fifty villagers, including twenty women, attended the meeting. They briefed us about the problems with the bottling plant. Following the community meeting, we walked around the bottling plant to witness the conditions around the plant.

The Brindavan Bottlers Limited, a company owned by the Ladhani Group of Companies, operates the bottling plant in Sinhachawar. The Ladhani Group of Companies is the single largest bottler in India for the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited, a subsidiary of the Atlanta based Coca-Cola company.

The Brindavan Bottlers Limited has entered into a franchisee relationship with the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited, and is a franchisee-owned bottling plant. The plant only manufactures Coca-Cola products.

Explaining the close (and dynamic) relationship between the franchisee and the Coca-Cola company, the Coca-Cola company states:

"All Indian bottlers of Coca-Cola Company, whether franchisee or company owned, have signed SIBA (Standard International Bottlers Agreement) which is renewed on a periodical basis.

The Bottlers Agreement is uniform across the world and in India and both the Franchisee and the company owned Bottler execute a similar agreement.

The Coca Cola Company has only one Quality System for its entire bottling systems (Company Owned & Franchisee Owned) around the world. The control mechanism includes issuing Quality, Environment & Safety standards, conducting review and assessments, diligently monitoring the operations on an on going basis. The Company has a franchise manager for Franchisees and Regional Technical & Quality Managers who ensures constant monitoring. The Company also provides technical assistance and training to the people and system capability."

Survey Observations

  1. Illegal Appropriation of Land
  2. Illegal Dumping of Waste
  3. Water Concerns

1. Illegal Appropriation of Land

Public Access Road Reclaimed by Community
Public Access Road Reclaimed by Community
The primary concern of the villagers was that the Coca-Cola franchisee owned bottling plant had built its premises partly on land that included commonly held land of the gram sabha (village assembly).

The gram sabha is essentially the community, and more specifically, those persons within the community over 18 years of age who are eligible to vote in local village council elections.

The villagers informed us that the bottling plant has illegally occupied about 1.5 acres of gram sabha land, and they are demanding that this land must be returned.

On December 9, 2005, in an attempt to completely cordon off the plant premises, the Coca-Cola franchisee owned bottling plant established a gate across a road that belongs to the community. The closing of the public road is an illegal act. The act by the bottling plant was an attempt to enclose the two premises of the plant that lay on either side of the public road into a single enclosed area.

Carelessly Scattered Sludge at Coke Bottling Plant
Illegal Dumping of Sludge at Coca-Cola Bottling Plant
On December 11, 2005, the Sinhachawar panchayat (village council) passed a resolution opposing the placement of the gate by the Coca-Cola franchisee owned bottling plant that blocked public access to the road. The same day, community members converged upon the blocked road and removed the gates that were blocking public access.

As of today, the public road remains open, and when walking on the road, one is literally walking through the bottling plant premises, with land to the left and right both utilized by the Coca-Cola franchisee owned bottling company.

2. Illegal Dumping of Waste

After the community meeting, we were taken for a walk around the Coca-Cola franchisee owned bottling plant, including a walk through the public road that had been reclaimed by the community.

To the left of the public road we noticed the presence of what seemed to be the effluent treatment plant. The effluent treatment plant was clearly not in operation, even though the bottling plant was under operation and producing Coca-Cola products.

Illegal Dumping of Sludge at Coca-Cola plant
Carelessly Scattered Sludge at Coke Bottling Plant
In and around the effluent treatment plant, we noticed large amounts of white and black solid waste scattered, including some in plastic bags. Many of the bags were torn, and the solid waste was scattered on the ground.

From our experience in confronting Coca-Cola bottling plants in the past about the indiscriminate dumping of their solid waste, we recognized the solid waste to be the sludge from the (currently non-operational) effluent treatment plant. This sludge has been declared to be hazardous by the Indian government authorities. The British Broadcasting Corporation has also found such waste to be toxic in other plants.

In 2003, in response to the growing campaign against Coca-Cola, the Central Pollution Control Board of India surveyed eight Coca-Cola bottling plants in India and tested the sludge at all these facilities. The Central Pollution Control Board found all the sludge at all the Coca-Cola bottling plants it surveyed to be containing dangerously high levels of heavy metals (Lead, Cadmium, Chromium), and ordered the Coca-Cola company to treat its sludge as industrial hazardous waste.

The presence of the sludge in such a carelessly discarded manner is a clear violation of environmental laws in India. In particular, the dumping of such hazardous waste violates the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989 from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Prior to the Central Pollution Control Board order, the Coca-Cola bottling plants in India were simply discarding their sludge as if it were common household waste, and in some instances, even provided their toxic sludge to farmers around their bottling plants as "fertilizer".

We also walked to the back of the bottling plant, and we noticed a continuous flow of water coming from the bottling plant into a canal just adjacent to the bottling plant. The canal feeds into the river Ganges. We also noticed agricultural land adjacent to the bottling plant completely waterlogged with wastewater coming for the bottling plant.

Wastewater from Coca-Cola Bottling Plant Flooding Farmland
Wastewater from Coca-Cola Bottling Plant Flooding Farmland
We were deeply perturbed to note the indiscriminate discharge of wastewater from the bottling plant. The wastewater from the bottling plant that is likely to contain pollutants, particularly because the effluent treatment plant was inoperative. The pollutants leach into the groundwater as well as pollute the agricultural lands - making the land unfit for agriculture and the water unfit for agriculture as well and consumption.

All bottling plants in India that produce Coca-Cola products use and generate hazardous materials. As per Indian environmental regulations, all bottling plants must clearly post at the plant's entrance the quantity and kinds of hazardous waste being used and generated by the bottling plant - as per the Supreme Court of India's order of October 14, 2003. This information must also be updated regularly on the board at the plant premises entrance.

When we arrived at the main entrance to the Coca-Cola franchisee owned bottling plant, we were met by some persons from the factory, one of whom went inside the premises to return promptly with a gun, and making sure that it was visible to us. The display of gun had the intended effect - the entire group decided to back off.

We also noticed that the plant entrance did have the board announcing that the plant generated hazardous materials. However, there was hardly any information on the board. In fact, under the first category - which should state the amount of hazardous materials used in their raw materials - the bottling plant had permanently painted "Zero" in Hindi.

The incomplete (or rather completely empty of data) board at the entrance of the Coca-Cola franchisee owned bottling plant is in violation of Indian environmental laws.

3. Water Concerns

Incomplete and Illegal Disclosure of Hazardous Waste Information
Incomplete and Illegal Disclosure of Hazardous Waste Information
Our visit to the Coca-Cola franchisee owned bottling plant in Sinhachawar coincided with a day that saw the temperature soar to 46 degrees centigrade (117 degrees Fahrenheit). Such temperatures are not unusual in the area. The community complained immensely of drying up of hand water pumps, as well as drying up of water wells.

When questioned whether this was relatively new or whether they had experienced this in the past, the community members were emphatic that the trickling from the hand water pumps and the drying up of the wells were more severe after the commencement of the operations of the Coca-Cola franchisee owned bottling plant.

The community members also informed us that the Coca-Cola franchisee owned bottling plant was in operation irregularly. When we visited, the plant had been in operation for only a week, according to community members. Due to growing public awareness, the consumption of the soft drink seems to have reduced considerably.

Recommendations

Based on the interactions and discussion with the villagers of Sinhachawar, along with our observations in Sinhachawar, we make the following recommendations:
  1. The Coca-Cola franchisee owned bottling plant in Sinhachawar operated by Brindavan Bottlers Limited must shut down immediately to prevent any further risk to the community and the environment as a result of the indiscriminate dumping of waste by the bottling plant.
  2. The Central Pollution Control Board must initiate an investigation into the bottling plant's operations immediately, and assess the level of pollution caused by the bottling plant.
  3. The Central Ground Water Board must act immediately to assess the water conditions in the area, both quantitatively and qualitatively.
  4. The District Magistrate of Balia must act immediately to open an inquiry on whether gram sabha lands have been appropriated illegally by the bottling plant.
  5. If and when the Coca-Cola franchisee owned bottling plant is found to be in violation of any laws in India, it must be criminally held liable.
  6. The Coca-Cola franchisee owned bottling plant must be held accountable for all damages it has incurred in the area and should be held responsible for the costs involved in the remediation of the area.

Fact Finding Team at Coca-Cola Bottling Plant
Fact Finding Team at Coca-Cola Bottling Plant




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