Coke on Trial as Indian Villagers Accuse Plant of Sucking Them Dry
John Vidal
November 19, 2003
The Guardian

The mighty Coca Cola corporation of America has given evidence to a small village council in southern India in an attempt to keep open a huge bottling factory which is threatened with closure following allegations that it is sucking the community dry.

The corporation's appeal to Perumatty village council in Kerala state, ordered by a judge, did not immediately convince the president of the council who dismissed the company's case as "incomplete and unsatisfactory", adding that a decision would be made on the future of the plant within 10 days.

The village claims that Coca Cola's biggest bottling plant in India is draining water from their wells, drying up their ponds and adversely affecting the lives of more than 2,000 families who depend on the underground water for crops.

Last month the council threatened to cancel the company's operating licence, saying the 65 bore holes drilled on its 17-hectare site were taking up to 1m gallons of water a day, and were forcing villagers to abandon their coconut groves and vegetable crops.

The village, which according to British charity Actionaid was part of a thriving agricultural region until Coca Cola arrived in 1998, also claims that Coke's bottle washing involves the use of chemicals which are released without treatment and contaminate the ground water.

The allegations are denied strongly by the corporation which yesterday submitted scientific studies to the council arguing that there was no evidence of water overuse. "The villagers are not suffering and we are not exploiting the water resources," the Coca-Cola plant manager N Janardhanan told Associated Press.

However, the water situation in the area is recognised as serious, and the company now sends water tankers round every morning to supply the minimum needs of villagers. It claims the water shortages have nothing to do with its use of water, but are because of lack of rain.

The case, which is also being pursued through the Indian courts, has become a cause celebre for Indian social activists protesting about unacceptable globalisation. Farmers and villagers have protested against the factory for more than a year and more than 300 arrests have been made following mass rallies.

Coca-Cola, which employs more than 250 people on the site, has dismissed its opponents as "anti-capitalist" activists, not farmers with legitimate grievances.

Sunil Gupta, vice-president of Coca-Cola India, claimed recently that the company has been the target of a handful of extremists and that it is lack of rainfall that has caused water supplies to be exhausted.

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