Protests Against Proposed Coca-Cola Plant in Gangaikondan
April 21, 2005

TIRUNELVELI: Soft drink major Coca Cola continues to generate adverse publicity. The MNC was in the eye of a storm at Plachimada in Palakkad district of Kerala, where there was stiff opposition to its bottling unit.

The focus has now shifted to Gangaikondan, where a Coca Cola production unit is fast coming up. The local CPM unit is already up in arms against the unit, alleging it would deplete the water table in the region.

The South India Bottling Company (P) Ltd would be producing the soft drink, on a formula provided by Coke, at its unit in the Industrial Growth Centre of State Industrial Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu (SIPCOT) at Gangaikondan, 15 km from here.

The CPM district committee organised a protest demonstration on Wednesday, demanding a halt to the MNCís arrival in Tirunelveli district.

The unit covers an area of around 32 acres inside the SIPCOT complex, spread over an area of 2,500 acres in Gangaikondan on the Tirunelveli-Madurai Highway. The lease period for companies coming up in the complex is 99 years. SIPCOT has promised to supply 45 lakh litres of water per day to these companies. The Coke unit alone will get 5 lakh litres everyday. The water will be drawn from the Tamiraparani river in Seevalaperi, some 14 km from the site.

Three infiltration wells have been sunk in the Tamiraparani river bed and a pump room has also been built. The pipelines have already been laid for drawing the requisite 45 lakh litres of water to the SIPCOT complex. A sump has been constructed nearby for storing the water.

But the CPM opposition stems from the apprehension that the company will indiscriminately extract ground water and suck the region dry. CITU district secretary R. Karumalayan said: "The track record of Coca Cola in India is not encouraging. Moreover, several parts of Tirunelveli already face drinking water problems and if the company is to draw 5 lakh litres of water from the Tamiraparani river as proposed, the region is sure to face severe water crisis in the future."

Tamiraparani is the source for the Kovilpatti drinking water scheme, TWAD Board schemes and the supply of drinking water for places like Sattur in Virdhunagar district. Some private companies also draw water from the river. Those who support the Coke project argue that the Tamiraparani is a perennial source of water. Besides, only the excess water is being drawn by SIPCOT. "As per rules, none of the industries coming up in the SIPCOT complex will be permitted to pump groundwater. There will be no exception in the case of Coke," said sources. Karumalayan, however, says that such assurances will not last long. Things are bound to change for the worse once the unit starts functioning.

Though the Rs 30-crore automated unit is not expected to generate much employment opportunities, it is said that the company will give preference to the locals for jobs. This will benefit the people of Thurayur, Aladipatti, Venkatachalapuram and Madathur.

D.S.M. Jayarajan, president of the Tirunelveli District Small and Tiny Industries Association, said, "Such companies contribute to the industrial development of the region, but sufficient safeguards should be put in place to ensure that groundwater is not exploited at any cost."

- SIPCOT to supply 45 lakh litres of water per day

- The Coke unit alone will get 5 lakh litres

- The CPM fears Tamiraparani river will be sucked dry

- SIPCOT says only excess water will be drawn

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