Coca-Cola Responsible for Decline in Groundwater Table in Rajasthan
The Hindu
June 17, 2004

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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