Coca-Cola Responsible for Decline in Groundwater Table in Rajasthan
Contrary to claims by the multinational soft drinks giant Coca-Cola
that its bottling plant in Kaladera, near here, is not responsible
for the decline in the ground water table, the Central Ground Water
Board has found that the factory is indiscriminately exploiting the
ground water reserves from deeper aquifers.
Investigations conducted by the Ground Water Board have revealed that
the multinational company's plant in the Kaladera industrial area
of Rajasthan is not only extracting colossal amounts of water but
is also causing ecological imbalance in the region by disturbing the
deeper aquifers through its heavy-duty borewells.
The probe was undertaken by the Board following a recent directive
by the Consultative Committee of the Union Ministry of Water Resources.
The committee wanted to know the extent of utilization of ground water
by manufacturers of soft drinks and mineral water. The Ministry is
reportedly collecting data and figures from various parts of the country
before deciding upon the action to control the damage.
A senior hydro-geologist of the Ground Water Board's Jaipur regional
office, who visited the Coca-Cola plant site thrice during the past
few months, told The Hindu today that the unit had extracted 1,48,259
cubic metres of water within seven months from March to September
2003. While an additional extraction amounting to 1lakh cubic metres
was estimated till the end of 2003-04, the figure during 2002-03 was
1,37,694 cubic metres.
This amount of water can irrigate land measuring at least 10,000 bighas
and produce agricultural yields to sustain about 5,000 families in
the rural areas. The paucity of water has adversely affected the fertile
land of Kaladera, barely 30 km from Jaipur, and increased the hardship
of the farmers.
The hydro-geologist, who preferred anonymity, pointed out that the
shallow aquifers in the Kaladera region had already dried up, as indicated
by the depth of water level in the wells and hand pumps, and the deeper
aquifers were now threatened by the Coca-Cola plant's activities.
The water table in the region has fallen to an alarming 125 feet over
the past decade.
"The continuous extraction will lead to deterioration in the quality
of ground water by disturbing the natural concentration of earthen
salts at various levels in the aquifers. Besides, it will create ecological
imbalance with the rise in surface temperature and an increase in
the probability of earthquake,'' said the scientist. The quake is
directly related to the upper crust of earth drying up.
The hydro-geologist disputed Coca-Cola's claim that only two of the
four bore-wells dug in its factory compound were functional. "The
plant has the state-of-the-art facilities for drawing water at high
speed from all four bore-wells. Their tube-wells can drain the ground
water to its last drop,'' he affirmed.
Coca-Cola has informed the Ground Water Board that it had paid Rs.
5,015 in 2002 and Rs. 20,074 till September 2003 to the Rajasthan
Pollution Control Board as cess towards compensation for causing environmental
pollution. The Board has since sent these figures to the Ministry
of Water Resources.
As part of its attempts to mollify the local villagers agitating against
the bottling plant, Coca-Cola has installed water recharge structure
in the Saharia College in Kaladera and constructed some water tanks
in the local Government school. However, the company has paid no attention
to rainwater harvesting in its own premises. "If the multinational
giant is serious about water conservation, it should establish a rooftop
rainwater harvesting plant in its factory building,'' said the hydro-geologist.
The residents of Kaladera have been agitating for several months against
the bottling plant and have demanded its permanent closure. The factory
was established in Kaladera in 1999 as part of the State Government's
drive to attract foreign investment. According to villagers, the plant's
activities have led to paucity of water in as many as 50 villages
falling in Chomu and Amer tehsils. The issue has now been taken up
by activists belonging to a wide spectrum of organisations from Gandhian
and Sarvodaya bodies to the Shiv Sena. A bandh was organised in Kaladera
early this month and a huge public meeting was organised to demand
the plant's closure. Prominent among the Jan Sangharsh Samiti constituted
in the village are the leaders of the Rajasthan Samagra Seva Sangh
and Arya Samaj.
The Sangharsh Samiti has decided to intensify the agitation with the
slogan "Coca-Cola bhagao, paani bachao'' (Drive away Coca-Cola, save
the water). The Samagra Seva Sangh secretary, Sawai Singh, told The
Hindu that a three-day march would be organised from Jaipur to the
plant site from August 9 to 12, to be preceded by passing of resolutions
against Coca-Cola in the affected villages next month.
This is the second major public protest against Coca-Cola, coming
close on the heels of a series of mass agitations in Kerala. The multi-national
giant is currently embroiled in a legal battle with social and environmental
organizations in the southern State.
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