Farmers Vs Coca-Cola in Water Wars
NEW DELHI, Oct 1 (IPS) - As India faces its worst drought in four
decades, a dispute over water resources between farmers in the Kala
Dera area of western Rajasthan state and a Coca-Cola bottling plant
located there has sharpened.
Farmers and activists in Kala Dera who have been campaigning for the
closure of the bottling plant operated by the global beverages icon
said that if they do not succeed in closing down the Coca-Cola plant
in this drought-hit year, they probably never will.
Kala Dera is located 40 kilometres outside Jaipur, the capital of
arid Rajasthan state, one of the main attractions of which is the
Thar Desert, considered the world’s seventh largest desert and Asia's
"The people who run the Coca-Cola plant are enormously influential
and have the backing of politicians from both the [ruling] Congress
party and the Bharatiya Janata Party [main opposition]," said activist
and farmer Rameshwar Prasad Kudi in a phone interview with IPS from
Kala Dera. "But we have the people on our side and we will continue
to press for the closure of the plant."
Kudi, who is a member of the Kala Dera Sangharsh Samiti, a local group
that has been demanding closure of the plant, said it was bad enough
that various rules and norms were violated to allow the plant to be
set up in a water-stressed area. Worse, it was "positively obscene"
that it was functioning as usual in the middle of a severe drought.
According to estimates released by the Indian Meteorological Department
(IMD) last week, the droughts this year could prove to be the worst
since 1972 as a result of a deficient monsoon — the June to September
rainy season that supports 60 percent of Indian agriculture.
IMD predicted that the droughts are likely to have the worst impact
on the north-western region, where Rajasthan falls and where monsoon
rainfall deficiency averages 34 percent.
Truant monsoon rains in the early part of the season have already
taken a toll on India’s annual rice output as well as important cash
crops like sugarcane and groundnut. Water levels in the country’s
main reservoirs stand depleted, threatening irrigation for the post-monsoon,
winter farming season or ‘kharif’.
Experts have blamed water shortage a situation afflicting many other
parts of the world today — on climate change. Severe flooding, droughts
and storms are other ill effects of this environmental phenomenon.
Kudi said depleted water tables in Kala Dera meant that he and other
farmers could not rely on groundwater to save their ‘kharif’ crops.
He accused the Coca-Cola plant of lowering the water table in the
area through water mining operations — charges that the bottler denies.
"We use less than one percent of Kala Dera’s available water, and
we are continuously focusing on reducing and recycling the water used
for our bottling operations," said Kamlesh Sharma, Coca-Cola senior
manager for public affairs and communications.
Sharma said his company has launched initiatives to replenish groundwater
through recharge projects within and outside its 56 plants across
"In Kala Dera, we have created the potential to recharge 15 times
more water into the ground than we use in our plant. Even with less
than normal rainfall, these structures can recharge substantially
more water than is drawn for our bottling operations.’’
Asked why Coca-Cola had chosen to set up the plant in a known drought-prone
area, Sharma said the company had simply responded to a government
plan to transform Kala Dera from a backward rural area dependent solely
on agriculture into a modern, industrial hub.
"We believe that we can be a net positive contributor to water in
Kala Dera," said Sharma, citing Rajasthan state government data showing
that the average annual decline over the past 10 years was less in
Kala Dera than in the surrounding areas.
The government data showed water table decline of 1.83 metres in Kala
Dera compared with those of other villages: 2.39 m in Chomu, 2.28
m in Jaipur and 2.43 m in Tigariya. Coca- Cola claims this is the
result of "water stewardship’’ by a responsible company with "expertise
in water management’’.
Sharma said it was completely unfair to blame Coca-Cola for water
shortages in Kala Dera when agriculture was the single largest user
of water resources in the area.
"The real issue is that conservation efforts must include steps to
get farmers to use water efficiently. What is needed is a complete
change in mindset among farmers so that they do not waste water through
traditional irrigation methods, but be prepared to accept modern farming
methods such as drip irrigation,’’ Sharma said.
Coca-Cola is prepared to help farmers make the transition. "Last year,
we entered into a public-private partnership with the government agency
Krishi Vigyan Kendra [an agricultural extension service] to help farmers
install drip irrigation projects in Kala Dera to improve water and
energy efficiency," Sharma said. "So far, we have installed 27 drip
irrigation projects and we plan to set up 200 more in the next few
The drip irrigation method allows water to drip slowly to the roots
of crops, thus minimising the use of water and fertilizer.
But the farmers have a different take on the issue. Mahesh Yogi, a
farmer and campaigner who spoke with IPS, said that while Coca-Cola
was giving out subsidies for drip irrigation, the scheme was costly
and unsustainable, considering the equipment needed, which would also
"There are 25,000 farmers in Kala Dera, and it is just not possible
to cover a significant number in a short period of time. What are
we to do in the meantime? And who will take care of future maintenance?"
Yogi claimed that the beneficiaries of the drip irrigation schemes
were a handful of better-off, influential people who supported Coca
Cola’s activities. "They are following a divide-and-rule policy here,’’
Yogi said the simple fact was that the water situation has become
so bad this year that even local industries, particularly those grouped
under the Kala Dera Industrial Area Association, have joined the campaign
to oust Coca-Cola.
Kudi and Yogi’s claims are backed by the report of an independent
investigation carried out by the prestigious New Delhi- based The
Environmental Research Institute (TERI), released last year.
TERI’s report said that Coca-Cola's operations in Kala Dera "would
continue to be one of the contributors to a worsening water situation
and a source of stress to the communities around".
The Institute’s key recommendations were that Coca-Cola relocate the
plant to a water-abundant area or else transport water to the plant
from an aquifer, which was not stressed for its needs, rather than
resort to water mining.
TERI’s report was prompted by an international, student-led campaign
in the United States, Canada and Britain involving 20 colleges and
universities that called for the removal of Coca-Cola products from
their campuses for creating water shortages and pollution in the areas
where it operates in India.
Curiously, anti-Coca-Cola activists had initially opposed the choice
of TERI as an "independent assessor’’ because it had worked with Coca-Cola
in the past and had even named Coca-Cola one of the most responsible
companies in India in 2001.
Yogi deems the TERI report redundant considering that the Central
Ground Water Board (CGWB) already considered Kala Dera as a water-deficient
area and has been actively discouraging the use of bore wells there.
In 2008, the CGWB declared Kala Dera "overexploited’’ for water. "We
are also concerned about the future,’’ Yogi said.
"There was so little rainfall this monsoon that there is no way that
Coca-Cola can recharge significant amounts of water through their
water-harvesting structures for next year." Sharma said that asking
for the Coca Cola to be relocated could prove counter-productive for
the people of Kala Dera.
"We believe that we will be in a better position to serve the communities
in Kala Dera by being present there rather than leaving."
FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. India Resource Center is making this article available in our efforts to advance the understanding of corporate accountability, human rights, labor rights, social and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.