Coca-Cola, Pepsi Plundering India's Water: Maneka Gandhi
October 28, 2005

Kochi, Kerala: Accusing softdrinks majors Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola of ''plundering'' India's groundwater resources while contributing ''little'' to the country, Member of Parliament Maneka Gandhi today said the policy planners need to rethink on the current anti-environment industrialisation model .

Inaugurating a seminar here on 'Core Values as a Strategy for Environmental Conservation', organised by the Kerala Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Ms Gandhi said businesses must do an environment audit before starting out on new ventures.

''Everywhere we are seeing rivers being polluted, mangroves and forests cut down and groundwater reserves being depleted in the name of industrialisation. To create wealth for a few, the livelihood of thousands of fishermen and tribals is being sacrificed,'' she added.

Claiming that the two multinational softrink companies were extracting 50 to 60 million litres of groundwater per year, Ms Gandhi said if the people in Plachimada, Kerala, could feel the pinch, what would be the plight of the poor villagers in Rajasthan.

''These companies take our groundwater, put in a pinch of essence imported from the United States and then sell us our water at a price of Rs 12 per bottle. They have created hardly any jobs and have not invested in social work, only in cricket, and there also the uniforms have to be sponsored by an Indian company,'' she added.

Warning Kerala against playing with its environment, Mrs Gandhi said she had heard with concern that plans were afoot to cut down mangroves on an estuary in Kochi to make way for an LPG plant.

''Similarly, the Central Government has decided to lease 38,000 km of forestland on the Andhra Pradesh-Karnataka border to a Mauritian company to do goldmining. We have to question what is more important for us -- trees or gold,'' she added.

While the cutting down of mangroves will have an adverse impact on fishermen, the cutting down of forestlands will displace tribals.

These ''environment refugees'' will then land up in the already congested cities, Mrs Gandhi said.

Stating that Nature doubly rewarded those, who took care not to hurt its creatures, Mrs Gandhi said ''it is no coincidence that the fully-vegetarian Jain community is among the richest in the world.'' Also present on the occasion were Kochi Mayor Mercy Williams and MLA K V Thomas.

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