Villagers Begin Hunger Strike to Close Coca-Cola Plant in India

For Immediate Release
June 23, 2006

Nandlal Master, Lok Samiti, India T: +91-542-2632433, +91 94153 00520
Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center, US T: + 1 415 336 7584 E: info@IndiaResource.org

San Francisco (June 23, 2006): Community leaders from Mehdiganj in north India began a hunger strike today to demand the closure of the Coca-Cola bottling plant.

Community leaders have accused the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj of creating severe water shortages affecting over twenty villages, polluting agricultural land and groundwater, illegally occupying land, evading taxes and treating workers unfairly.

The hunger strike comes exactly 3 months after the community initiated an indefinite vigil directly in front of the Coca-Cola factory. Community leaders have been frustrated by the lack of action from the government, and have embarked upon the hunger strike to emphasize the severity of the situation facing the communities.

Coca-Cola reaches peak production capacity during summer months, and the water crisis is also particularly acute for thousands of people in the area. The state government of Uttar Pradesh, where Mehdiganj is located, has announced a series of water relief efforts, including trucking drinking water to communities.

"It is preposterous that the government can allow a water guzzling company like Coca-Cola to operate freely when thousands of people cannot even meet their basic water needs," said Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti, one of the main community groups campaigning against Coca-Cola. "We are demanding that the state government take immediate action to cancel Coca-Cola's license."

Recent government reports have confirmed that the state is facing a major water crisis. The Ground Water Department (GWD) has found water depletion to be at alarming levels in at least half of the state.

The communities' assertion of pollution has also been confirmed by government studies. A survey of Coca-Cola's sludge by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) found excessive levels of cadmium, lead and chromium - heavy metals that cause serious health problems. Prior to the CPCB's findings, the Coca-Cola company was indiscriminately discharging its waste water into the surrounding fields, and was providing its solid waste as "fertilizer" to farmers in the area. After the CPCB study, the Coca-Cola company has been ordered to treat its waste as hazardous.

The rapidly declining water tables, along with the pollution of the water and soil has taken a significant toll on the economy of the area. Crop production has been seriously hampered, and people have to find additional resources just to procure water for meeting their basic water needs.

"The Coca-Cola company is responsible for destroying precious water resources for generations to come and they must be held to account. The government has enough facts, and it must act now to put an end to Coca-Cola's egregious behavior," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization.

Medha Patkar from the National Alliance of People's Movements will also be joining the protest and will participate in a two-day conference on water rights on June 30 and July 1.

The Coca-Cola company is facing a major crisis in India, with communities across India targeting the company for causing water shortages and pollution. One of Coca-Cola's largest bottling plants in India, in Plachimada in south India, has been shut down since March 2004 because of community pressure.

The campaigns in India are also receiving tremendous support internationally, particularly with colleges and universities in the United States and United Kingdom campaigning to revoke Coca-Cola's contracts until they meet the demands of the communities.

For more information on the campaign against Coca-Cola in Mehdiganj, visit http://www.indiaresource.org/news/2006/1070.html

For information on the campaigns against Coca-Cola in India, visit www.IndiaResource.org


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