Coca-Cola forced to close India bottling factory over excessive water use, pollution

AFP Photo / Tengku Bahar

AFP Photo / Tengku Bahar

Years of protests have forced Indian officials to finally close a Coca-Cola bottling factory in the northern province of Uttar Pradesh for extracting groundwater above legal limits and polluting the environment with toxic effluents.

Coca-Cola’s Mehdiganj plant in Varanasi used to pump too much
fresh water from the underground water table, a practice that has
led to groundwater levels in the area dropping to critical
levels. This infuriated local residents mostly employed in
agriculture, who are suffering from scarce water resources.

The plant has also been accused of discharging effluents,
containing excessive levels of pollutants, thus damaging the

The battle to close the factory has been marked with a number of
dramatic protests staged by local farmers. One protest, in 2006,
lasted for over three months and culminated with a hunger strike
among the local population and activists demanding the plant
cease operation.

Finally, the bottling plant has been ordered to stop operation.

(FILES) In this photo Indian village women from Banaras in northern Uttar Pradesh state shout slogans as they demand the closure of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo factories due to fears over groundwater poisioning during a protest in New Delhi. (AFP Photo / Raveendran)

“The plant is closed following our orders,” Uttar
Pradesh Pollution Control Board member secretary J.S. Yadav told
AFP, specifying that Coca-Cola was ordered to replenish twice as
much groundwater as it extracted and provide a permit from a
government agency that regulates groundwater use, Yadav said.

Local campaigner Nandlal Master told the India Resource Center:
“This is a great victory and a welcome confirmation that
local communities can successfully take on big, powerful

The world’s largest soft drinks maker appealed the closure order
to India’s environment court, the National Green Tribunal, the
Pollution Control Board said.

Last year, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola announced that the 15-year-old
Varanasi bottling facility had been expanded and could produce
600 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of soft drinks per
minute. With an estimated 26,500 kiloliters of beverage
production per year, this used to be one of the smallest
Coca-Cola factories in India.

Coca-Cola has 58 bottling factories in India, where consumption
of soft drinks is swiftly growing with the expansion of the
middle class. Many factories have been targeted by protests for
the same reason: an excessive use of local water resources.

In early 2014, the authorities of the Uttar Pradesh province
promised to demolish
the Coca-Cola factory
, claiming that the plant had been built
on the land belonging to the local village council and therefore
the construction was “illegal.”

Indian authorities have also imposed a nominal 126,000 rupee
($2,000) fine on the soft drink company over the land issue.

India’s Hindustan Coca-Cola Company Private Limited, which plans
to invest $5 billion in India over the period 2012-20, has called
the ruling “unprecedented” and denied allegations of
destructive water usage as “misleading and false.”

AFP Photo / Dibyangshu Sarkar

“As part of the withdrawal of consent, we were not allowed or
even asked to present any facts or explain our position,”

the company said in a statement. “We recognize that water is
critical to our business as integral to community needs and
therefore we have a shared interest in the sustainability of
water resources.”

Coca-Cola has encountered a similar problem in India before, at
another bottling plant in Kerala, which was closed for a decade
over the same accusation of depleting the local water table and
dumping toxic effluent.

Though in the end a local court did rule in favor of the company,
the facility has never been reopened.

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