Close on the heels of the opposition to the Coca Cola bottling plant at Plachimada in Kerala, people in another state — this time in Gangaikondan in south Tamil Nadu — are up in arms against another Coca Cola bottling plant being set up there.
The people in Gangaikondan are totally dependent on the monsoon for agriculture. There are two lakes, which fill up during the rain. If they don’t, then there is no agricultural activity in Tirunelveli district. Drinking water is supplied through pipes from a borewell dug in the bed of the Thambiraparani river flowing nearby.
From the very same riverbed, other pipes carry water to the State Industries Promotion Corporation of Tamil Nadu Ltd industrial estate in Tirunelveli (SIPCOT) spread over 2000 acres. Across the road, just outside SIPCOT, is a flourishing flour mill owned by the Lakshmi Mills group. The most recent entry into SIPCOT in Tirunelveli is Coca-Cola. A franchisee in Tirunelveli, the South India Bottling Company Pvt Ltd, who has an agreement with the cola monopoly, will use its concentrate to make Coke. SIPCOT has promised to supply 45 lakh litres of water per day to these companies. The Coke unit alone will get 5 lakh litres everyday.
The Thambiraparani river is the lifeline of three southern districts in Tamil Nadu. Any profit-making enterprise which is to be supplied 5 lakh litres of water a day will inevitably be opposed by farmers in these districts. The farmers use the water to grow paddy, bananas, betel leaves, coconuts and other vegetables. How can they accept so much water being diverted for a cola that is not essential to their lives.
Thambiraparani is also the source for the Kovilpatti drinking water scheme in Tuticorin district, Tamil Nadu Water and Drainage (TWAD) Board schemes and the supply of drinking water for towns like Sattur in Virdhunagar district.
There are other instances too of cola monopolies grabbing drinking water sources in India. Over 1500 people participated in a march and rally aginst Coca Cola in November 2004 in Mehdiganj, near Varanasi. 350 people were detained after a violent attack by the police on peaceful demonstrators.
This Coca Cola plant in Uttar Pradesh draws out more than 2.5 lakh litres of underground water per day. Due to this horrible abuse of the source of life the water level of the area has receded from 25 to 40 feet underground. The company pollutants have rendered many acres of agricultural fields infertile. The company has not bothered to compensate the poor farmers despite the clear instructions towards it from the administration.
Besides, Coca Cola has illegally occupied about 15,000 sq ft. of land belonging to the village panchayat of Mehdiganj. The farmers, youth and especially women of the area have been struggling long to force the Coca-Cola plant to close down. The District Magistrate had formed a committee to investigate the anti-people activities of the company in December 2003. But the administration did not take any action against the factory. The government of Uttar Pradesh itself had given assurance of serious action against the company, when thousands of people picketed at the Assembly building, for two days in June 2003 protesting on the injustice done by it. But in reality no action has been taken to this day.
Recently, the Plachimada panchayat in Kerala refused to renew the license given to the local Coca Cola bottling plant. The company was drawing out such a massive amount of water for commercial purposes that the entire area, within a radius of three kilometers, has been under severe drought ever since the plant started functioning there. The wells, hand pumps and even tube wells of people have totally dried up. Even more, the water that is collected in these sources during the rainy season has been so terribly polluted that it is no more potable. The pollutants of the company cause such an unbearable stink in the water that it is not only unusable for cooking but also awful for bathing.
A few weeks ago, a division bench of the Kerala High Court, while issuing an order preventing Coca Cola from drawing drinking water in Plachimad pronounced that “water is the birthright of people. Even if the surface land may belong to individuals, the underground water is a common inheritance of all living beings. All the administrative machinery has a responsibility to protect this invaluable treasure of nature. Thus save the underground water from being exploited and depleted”.
In a total volte face, another division bench of the Kerala High Court reversed the verdict and pronounced that “in certain circumstances the license may be deemed to have been granted!”. It is being questioned by eminent jurists that when licence has been refused for Coca-Cola by a local authority, which is necessary under municipal law, how can the court hold that, in certain circumstances, the licence may be deemed to have been granted, thus nullifying the statute.
Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola are but instances of monopolies running rough shod over people’s rights and twisting the arms of the state machinery in their greed to control water sources. Many other monopolies, Indian and foreign, have been surreptitiously gaining control over water sources in many parts of India, in total violation of the traditional rights of the local people. The movement against foreign monopolies such as Coca Cola controlling India’s water sources is also a movement against any control of monopolies, Indian and foreign, over people’s water sources. It is a movement upholding the inalienable right of the local people to have complete control over water sources in the area, and use them judiciously in the interests of the vast majority of the people.
It is said that if another World War between imperialist powers erupts, then it would be over control of water resources. The entire globe is experiencing a severe shortage of drinking and irrigation water. Giant multinationals have been making desperate efforts to grab control over water resources throughout the world and making criminal profits by selling this life sustainer and a product of nature at incredible pieces.
There is an urgent necessity for people to step up their struggles in defense of their water sources and not give in to the threats or entreaties of the monopolies and the state administration. Having access to drinking water is an inalienable right of the people. It is the peasants and peoples organisations which should determine the equitable sharing of water resources for drinking, irrigation and for the production of essential commodities.