Sharp Drop in Groundwater Levels Around Coca-Cola Bottling Plant

Community Demands Closure of Plant as Summer Begins in India

For Immediate Release
April 25, 2011

New Delhi: In yet another shocking incidence of groundwater depletion as a result of Coca-Cola's bottling operations in India, government data has confirmed a sharp drop in groundwater levels in Mehdiganj near the city of Varanasi since Coca-Cola began operations in the area in 1999.

The latest groundwater data, obtained from the Central Groundwater Board, validate community concerns that Coca-Cola's operations have resulted in the community being deprived of water, and strengthen their resolve that the Coca-Cola bottling plant must be shut down.

Groundwater levels in Mehdiganj have dropped 7.9 meters (26 feet) in the 11 years since Coca-Cola started its bottling operations in Mehdiganj, from 2.05 meters below ground level (mbgl) in 1999 to 9.95 mbgl in 2010.

In the 11 years prior to Coca-Cola beginning operations in Mehdiganj, groundwater levels had actually risen 7.95 meters, from 1988 (10.00 mbgl)) to 1999 (2.05 mbgl).

Coca-Cola has effectively nullified all the groundwater gains made in Mehdiganj, primarily due to community efforts, prior to its arrival.

The groundwater conditions in and immediately around the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj - surrounded by farms - is even more critical.

The company claims that it does not measure groundwater levels at the point of extraction - an irresponsible move by a water guzzling company - if indeed it were true. Official Coca-Cola documents filed with the government, and obtained by us, however, confirm that groundwater levels at the bottling plant is one of the most critical in the entire area - 23.75 mbgl in 2008 according to Coca-Cola itself.

Mehdiganj is suffering from acute water shortages which have been particularly severe in the last two years - 2009 was officially declared as drought affected, and 2010 witnessed significantly lower than normal rainfall.

Water shortages for the community are most acute in the summer months - exactly when Coca-Cola reaches peak production, and as a result, exponentially worsening the water crisis.

"Coca-Cola must shut down its bottling plant in Mehdiganj as the summer season has started in India," said Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti, the primary community group spearheading the campaign against Coca-Cola. "It is abundantly clear that Coca-Cola and water scarcity go hand in hand, and we will increase our efforts to close the plant in order to ensure that the villagers have water for drinking and farming."

Mehdiganj is the latest in a series of community led campaigns across India that have accused the company of exacerbating water shortages and pollution.

In Kala Dera in the state of Rajasthan, groundwater levels fell just 3 meters in the nine years prior to Coca-Cola's bottling operations. However, groundwater levels have dropped 22.36 meters in the nine years since Coca-Cola began operations. A Coca-Cola funded study has recommended the closure of the Kala Dera facility.

One of Coca-Cola's largest bottling plants in India, in the village of Plachimada in Kerala, has been shut down since 2004 as a result of community opposition. The community led campaign has succeeded in passing state legislation holding Coca-Cola accountable for $48 million in damages caused as a result of its operations.

In response to the continuing campaigns against Coca-Cola in India, the company has announced ambitious water conservation measures, the vast majority of which have been outsourced to foreign NGOs in India.

Critics have dismissed such announcements from Coca-Cola as primarily public relations efforts to deflect attention away from the legitimate and provable allegations of water depletion and pollution.

Amazingly, Coca-Cola has also announced that it has become water neutral in India, a claim they have not been able to substantiate. The idea that the Coca-Cola's operations in India have a "neutral" impact on water resources is preposterous.

Coca-Cola has chosen one of the most water stressed countries in the world - India - to announce water neutrality. And yet, it has not been able to become water neutral in relatively water-healthy countries such as Canada, Norway and Sweden. Critics dismiss Coca-Cola's actions as fantastical with no basis in reality.

"The confirmation of the sharp groundwater decline in Mehdiganj and elsewhere runs counter to the messages being sent out from Coca-Cola's public relations department that the company respects communities where it operates. Shutting down the Mehdiganj bottling plant is the only socially responsible action that Coca-Cola can take. Anything else will continue to subject the community in Mehdiganj to thirst and loss of livelihoods, courtesy Coca-Cola," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning group.

For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org

Nandlal Master, Lok Samiti +91 94153 00520
Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center +91 98103 46161 (India) +1 415 336 7584 (US)

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