Disappearing Water Levels:
Coca-Cola’s Extraction of Water Leaves Mehdiganj and Surrounding Villages Dry

For Immediate Release
Varanasi, U.P
August 31, 2006

Varanasi, U.P: In a press conference organized today, the report titled ‘Disappearing Water Levels – Status of water table in Mehdiganj and surrounding villages of Varanasi, U.P” was released based on the current status of the water table and the impact of Coca-Cola plant in the community. The study was conducted by Ms.Chandrika with the help of Lok Samiti in eight villages (Mehdiganj, Nagepur, Bhikaripur, Rakhona, Kallipur, Chittapur, Kachnar, Benipur) with in 3 km radius of the Coca-Cola plant covering all the shallow wells, bore-wells, hand pumps with in the radius.

On presenting the results of the study, Ms.Chandrika said that 90% of the wells in the area have been affected by the presence of Coca-Cola. 39% of the shallow wells have either dried or in the process of drying since 2000 when Coca-Cola started its operations in the region. 25% of the wells have dried and 14% are in danger of drying. The number of wells that have dried since Coca-Cola came here has increased seven folds compared to previous decade (1990-2000). 50% of the wells have also seen a drop in water level. An average of 18 feet drop has been observed in the last 10 years. The rate of drop in water level in current decade has exceeded by 1000% over previous decade since Coca-Cola has come here. Out of 73 bore-wells installed in the region, 4 bore-wells have already dried between 2001 and 2006.

With wells drying out, the community is increasingly dependent on hand pumps for its basic water needs and is turning to the state for its water needs. Number of hand pumps installed has increased in the last decade from 45 to 220 by a rate of 380% and the state owns 68% of the hand pumps in the region. However status of hand pumps does not present a happy picture either. Since 2000, 43% of the hand pumps have stopped working or have intermittent water supply. Before Coca-Cola came, only three hand pumps had problems but now 94 hand pumps have problems.

The community’s view point on water has been to see water as common resource closely integrated with their life and livelihood. Most of the wells owned by families were used communally and the neighbors did not have to pay for use of water for their basic needs. This is in conflict to state’s policy defined on pressure from international institutions such as WTO, World Bank and IMF and multinational corporations such as coca-Cola and Pepsi which declare water as a commodity to be traded with in free market dictat.

In his note, Dr.Sandeep Pandey (Magsaysay award winner) deplored the irresponsibility of the union health minister Mr.Anbumani Ramadoss in its response to the CSE report on high levels of pesticide content in soft drinks. He pointed to the tests done by Central Food Laboratory as part of the investigations by Joint Parliamentary Committee instituted three years ago which corroborated the findings by CSE. He asked that the Coca-Cola issue needs to be looked beyond the pesticide into its over-exploitation of water and pollution in sites where the plants are based. He presented the report by Central Pollution Control Board which has tested sludge and effluents of Coca-Cola and Pepsi companies in several sites including Mehdiganj and has found that high levels of lead, cadmium and chromium.

Dr.Sandeep Pandey also released a booklet on the movement titled ‘To protect our right over our water’ to the public. In the press conference, owner of a local restaurant and a journalist showed photographs of soft drinks Fanta and Maaza containing fungus, plastic papers, thus exposing the soft drink industry’s claim on its standards.

Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti in his address talked about the next state of andolan when Jal Adhikar Yatra (Water Rights March) will be initiated from Mehdiganj on September 10th to Delhi. The march will cover all the Coca-Cola and Pepsi plants in U.P and Kaladera, Rajasthan and will end in Delhi where a big protest is being planned in various parts of the city.

Nandlal Master (Lok Samiti)
Sandeep Pandey (N.A.P.M)

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