Study Blames Coke Plant for Depleting Water Table
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service
September 7, 2006

New Delhi: There appears to be some more grief in store for cola majors in the country.

A study conducted by the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) on the current status of water table around a Coca-Cola plant has revealed that the factory has been instrumental in decreasing ground water levels in the region. On the basis of which the NGO is now planning to begin a nationwide movement on September 10 to highlight the "issue of water rights of the people".

The NAPM study, "Decreasing water levels-Status of water table in Mehndiganj and surrounding villages, Varanasi, UP (August 2006)", follows the Centre for Science and Environment pesticides-in-cola expose. A study at the Plachimada plant in Kerala also revealed high levels of heavy metals, much beyond permissible levels, in the ground water around the plant that led to the closure of the factory.

In its study, the NAPM has documented the current status of the water table and the impact of the Mehndiganj plant in eight villages within a 3-km radius. It alleges that the factory has affected 90 per cent of wells in the area and the rate of drop in the water level has gone up by an alarming 1,000 per cent since Coca-Cola came in the region.

"Thirty-nine per cent wells in the area have either dried up or are in the process of drying since 2000, the year Coca-Cola started operations in the region," Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey, who is also the national convener of the NAPM, said, quoting the study conducted by researcher Chandrika R. around the Mehndiganj plant here today.

Coca-Cola has cited drought and excessive water use in agriculture as reasons for decreasing water tables, says Sandeep, adding that this was not the case. "If water depletion is causing the water table to dry, pollution by Coca-Cola threatens to make the available water unusable," he adds, giving the reference of a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report.

The CPCB report says that the sludge released by the Mehndiganj plant contains toxic heavy metals like lead, cadmium and chromium. "Ingestion of these through food and water stream makes these metals toxic to humans, causing mental retardation in children, cancer and premature birth. Soon after this the state government came out with its own version, giving a clean chit to the plant. We have filed an RTI appeal to know how they managed to clean the ground water so fast," he added.

The report reveals that close to 25 per cent of the wells have dried up and 14 per cent are in the danger of drying. The number of wells that have dried up since Coca-Cola started its operations in the region increased seven fold compared to the previous decade, 1990-2000. Considering there are about 90 cola factories all around the country, for Sandeep the issue of the commercialisation of water leading to contamination and depletion presents a scary situation.

The NAPM study also says that an average of 18-feet drop has been observed in wells, compared to a drop of 1.6 feet in the previous decade. The rate of drop in the water level has exceeded by 1,000 per cent since Coca-Cola arrived in the area.

"Over 68 per cent of the wells have water levels at 40 feet or higher. Ten years ago, the same number was at 20 per cent. Out of 73 bore-wells installed in the region, 10 have gone dry. Four bore-wells already dried between 2001 and 2006. Since 2000, 43 per cent of hand-pumps have stopped working or have intermittent water supply," says Chandrika.

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