Panchayats, or village councils, are elected bodies at the most local level in India. Eighteen in the immediate vicinity of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj in Varanasi district have come together to demand that the groundwater used by Coca-Cola be stopped immediately due to the growing water crisis in the area. They are located within a 5-km radius of the Coca-Cola plant and villagers have experienced water shortages soon after Coca-Cola began operations in 1999. The area surrounding the bottling plant is largely agrarian, and relies on groundwater to meet most of its needs, including drinking, irrigation, cleaning and for livestock. Coca-Cola also uses the same common groundwater source to meet its production needs, placing its groundwater use in direct competition with the community in an area running short of water.
Government data has confirmed sharp drops in groundwater level in the area. The area’s groundwater was declared as “over-exploited” by the government just last year. Over-exploited is the worst category possible and implies that more water is being extracted than being recharged, and many restrictions on the use of groundwater by the community and farmers are put into place. The village councils note that it is not acceptable that Coca-Cola continues to extract groundwater for profit while everyone faces a water crisis in the area. The letter also notes that children, women, farmers, the poor and livestock are affected the most from the growing water crisis.
“Elected village council heads represent the voice of the people, and they are clear that Coca-Cola is not welcome in Mehdiganj. It is time for Coca-Cola to pack up and leave,” said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization. “Coca-Cola paints a pretty picture of itself internationally as a responsible user of water but the reality in India is that it exploits groundwater at the expense of the poor, the women, children, farmers and livestock who have to live with less water because Coca-Cola mines groundwater in a water scarce area for profit,” Srivastava said.
World Socialism Party (India)