Coca-Cola Affected Community in India Promises Escalation of Campaign, Despite Court Ruling
For Immediate Release
April 8, 2005
R. Ajayan, Plachimada Solidarity Committee (India)
Tel: +91 9847142513
Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center (US)
Tel: 415 336 7584
Plachimada and New York (April 8, 2005): In a surprising move, a division bench of the High Court of Kerala has permitted Coca-Cola to extract up to 500,000 liters of water from the common groundwater resource per day at its Plachimada facility, in southern India. The bottling plant remains shut down for over a year now due to intense community pressure.
The Perumatty village council (panchayat), which had refused to renew Coca-Cola's license to operate citing it for over-extraction of water, has been given 15 days to reconsider its decision, and Coca-Cola is expected to file for a renewal of the license to the Perumatty panchayat in the next few days.
The High Court ruling is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court, and it seems unlikely that Coca-Cola can reopen its plant at Plachimada in the near future.
The latest ruling was in response to Coca-Cola's appeal of the December 16, 2003 Kerala High Court ruling. In the significant ruling of December 2003, the High Court had ruled Coca-Cola's heavy extraction of water from the common groundwater resource to be 'illegal' and ordered it to seek alternative sources of water for its production. Significantly, the 2003 ruling also noted that even if it was assumed that Coca-Cola could extract water safely, it should not be allowed to do so because
"the underground water belongs to the general public and the 2nd respondent [Coca-Cola] has no right to claim a huge share of it and the Government have no power to allow a private party to extract such a huge quantity of ground water, which is a property, held by it in trust."
The High Court based its judgment on a report which recommended that Coca-Cola could extract up to 500,000 liters of water per day, based on normal rainfall conditions.
However, both the state government of Kerala, as well as the Perumatty panchayat, had argued that the report was inadequate, and that the Coca-Cola plant should not be allowed to operate.
The issues surrounding Coca-Cola in Plachimada are far from over.
"The community struggle to shut down Coca-Cola permanently will intensify, and the company will not be allowed to reopen," said R. Ajayan, convener of the Plachimada Solidarity Committee, a key supporter of the local struggle to assert community control over natural resources. "We are also demanding that the state government of Kerala file an appeal with the Supreme Court to safeguard the interests of the community as well as the right of the panchayat."
The High Court also noted that Coca-Cola could extract the groundwater since there was no law regulating groundwater extraction for such purpose in India.
"In the absence of such a law, it makes it difficult to protect natural resources from such predatory behavior by private companies," said C.R. Bijoy, a prominent Indigenous people's rights activist. He also noted that the quality of the groundwater, which has been polluted as a result of Coca-Cola's practices, was not at all taken into consideration while issuing the order. "This issue is about much more than the extraction of water by Coca-Cola itself. The issue is about who has the fundamental decision making power over the use of natural resources, and it is about the survival of the people," continued Bijoy.
"We are confident that the current ruling against the community of Plachimada will be overturned," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center. "It is an absurd thought that in India, where water is already such a scarce resource, a company like Coca-Cola should be allowed to waste precious natural resources in such a frivolous manner."
Coca-Cola in India has been the target of numerous protests, accusing it of causing severe water shortages, polluting the water and land, distributing toxic waste as fertilizer and selling drinks with high levels of pesticides in the Indian market place. Various government agencies as well as courts continue to rule against Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola is even banned from sale in the Parliament of India.
Coca-Cola faces increasing resistance in Mehdiganj, Uttar Pradesh and Kala Dera, Rajasthan, where communities are also demanding the shut down of Coca-Cola plants. Tens of thousands of community members are involved in protesting Coca-Cola in India and the International Campaign to Hold Coca-Cola Accountable is also succeeding in applying pressure on the company. 12 colleges and universities have already banned Coca-Cola from their campuses in the US, UK and Italy, and many more are expected to follow.
Issues surrounding Coca-Cola's human rights abuses in Colombia and India are also expected to be brought up at its shareholder meeting in the US on April 19, where demonstrations have been planned. A ten city speaking tour against Coca-Cola's crimes is also underway in the United States.
For more information, visit India Resource Center
Journalists may contact us to obtain a copy of the December 16, 2003 High Court ruling and the Perumatty Panchayat letter to Coca-Cola.