MUMBAI: Villagers around the Coca Cola plant in Wada taluka in Thane district are thirsting for water. Many blame the plant for grabbing water at the expense of villagers. The Hindustan Coca Cola company, however, denies the charge.
The villagers say they are forced to trek long distances in search of water as the water table has gone down due to off-take from wells by the multinational company.
Coca Cola sources, however, said the state irrigation department had allowed the company to tap water from Vaitarna river. But during the last seven months, the river has been practically dry. The company had laid a pipeline at a cost of Rs 2 crore to transport water from the river to the plant.
The company is now getting its supply of water with tankers from sources, five km away from the plant. The company has dug a few borewells inside the plant, but is not using them. Local activists, however, dispute the claim.
The company attributed the water scarcity in the area to insufficient rains last year. It said for the last few months, the authorities had stopped releasing water from the upstream Modak Sagar dam into the river, which may have contributed the lowering of the water table in the area.
Coca Cola's critics say the Maharashtra government has given several facilities to the company, including tax concessions, land at throwaway prices acquired from farmers, and a plentiful supply of water at a very cheap price. The company pays only Rs 378 per 10,000 litre, they say.
The Coca Cola plant, set up in Kudus village in Wada taluka in 1997, is encountering strong opposition from villagers and the pro-communist All-India Democratic Womens Association because it has reportedly deprived water to thousands of people.
"We do not want the plant to be closed down. We only want proper access to water for villagers and that the company should be charged commercial rates for water," said activist Raju Paranjape.
The state government is giving subsidy of several crores to the company, while it gets little revenue and villagers are deprived of water, claimed Kiran Moghe, an activist.
A villager, Bhaskar Gorane, said many like him did not get compensation for the companys pipeline which passed through their land. Worse, he was kept in police custody for a week because he opposed the construction of the pipeline, he said.
The plant has a capacity of 30 lakh litre per day and is capital-intensive. Villagers parted with their land, expecting jobs which have not materialised yet.
The villagers did not face any water scarcity in the past. A check dam built at Gandhre village by the irrigation department ensured regular supply to surrounding villages.
However, the company was later given permission to draw 3,00,000 litres of water per day from the same source. The same water would have served the need of 75,000 villagers per day, said Phulwanti Mhase, another villager.
"Why cannot such a big multinational brand with a worldwide focus not create its own water resources? Why interfere with the water supply of poor people?" These are the questions being asked by the villagers.
Company sources said they had started a Rs 50-lakh rainwater harvesting project to create water bodies within the plant premises which will capture rainwater to recharge ground water. Jain Irrigation Company is implementing the project.
There will be two large percolation tanks with a capacity of 10,000 cu m each in which rainwater will be impounded.