Over 800 Protest Coca-Cola in India

For Immediate Release
November 30, 2005

Nandlal Master, Lok Samiti +91 94153 00520 (Hindi)
Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center [for International Inquiries] UK +44 7731 865591 US +1 415 336 7584 E: info@IndiaResource.org

London (November 30, 2005): In another show of growing discontent with Coca-Cola's bottling operations in India, over 800 community members marched on Wednesday, November 30, to Coca-Cola's factory gates in Mehdiganj in northern India, demanding that the factory shut down immediately.

The major demonstration comes exactly a year after another major protest against the plant, in November 2004, where protesters were severely beaten by the police and over 350 detained.

Over 250 police personnel were present at the march today, and there were no arrests.

"We have had enough," said Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti, one of the key organizers of the march and rally. "We will continue to work to stop Coca-Cola which is causing severe hardships to the community," he continued.

Communities living around Coca-Cola's bottling plant in Mehdiganj, near the holy city of Varanasi, have been experiencing severe water shortages as a result of the company's operations in the area. The company has also been accused of disposing of its toxic sludge to farmers under the guise of fertilizer, as well as polluting the scarce remaining groundwater in the area.

Coca-Cola's practices are causing dramatic impacts on the community. Farmers, for whom the quantity and quality of water is key to successful farming, have been particularly hit hard, losing significant crop yields.

The protesters also lodged a formal criminal complaint on Wednesday, accusing the Coca-Cola company of stealing water from the community.

The local village council, yielding to community pressure, has revoked Coca-Cola's license to operate. The campaign is also receiving support from a growing number of political parties across India, and Mr. V. P. Singh, ex-prime minister of India has also expressed his solidarity with the local community campaign to hold Coca-Cola accountable.

In a move to contain the growing campaign, state authorities have filed false (but serious) charges against some key community leaders, and introduced new charges against thirty additional community members just last week- allegedly for their "criminal" activities from a protest against Coca-Cola a year ago. Nandlal Master, a key community leader, had his passport confiscated by the state authorities in an attempt to prevent him from traveling internationally to highlight Coca-Cola's crimes.

"Unfortunately, the state is abdicating its responsibility to ensure the well being of the public. Instead, it is doing the bidding of the Coca-Cola company," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization.

In an attempt to weaken the turnout, Coca-Cola organized a volleyball game in the surrounding village. There were also reports of groups visiting villages last night, warning people that there will be violence at the protest today. And in a very serious incident, an organizer who had gone to mobilize protesters in a village was beaten and kidnapped. The organizer managed to escape, and a criminal complaint has been filed against the managers of the Coca-Cola bottling plant.

The protester's demands include the dropping of all criminal charges against community members, an inquiry into the illegal manner in which the Coca-Cola plant has occupied land belonging to the community as well as compensation for farmers who have been adversely affected by Coca-Cola's practices.

Coca-Cola has become the target of various communities across India who are experiencing severe problems with the quantity and quality of water as a result of the company's operations.

One of Coca-Cola's largest plants in India, in Plachimada in south India, has remained shut down since Match 2004 because of local community pressure. The state government of Kerala has recently sided with the community in Plachimada, and has challenged Coca-Cola's right to extract water in the Supreme Court of India.

Images from today's protest available upon request.

For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org


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