Saturday, October 25, 2014

Coca-Cola plant in Mehdiganj near Varanasi

This is a good example case for illustrating what happens when we see only the economics numbers when judging a situation. Our media and our experts and of course our leaders will tell us that we should encourage MNCs to do business in India, it will lead to more jobs, rise in GDP and more prosperity for the country. We paint all enterprises with the same brush and completely forget that every particular industry has particular material properties. There is a world of difference between a services company and a soft drinks manufacturer for example, but our typical reporting and analysis don't care about the differences.

Below is what that seemingly innocent and optimistic "Dil Mangey More" perspective usually translates into once you get on the ground. The only way ANY soft drinks industry can be viable or "sustainable" in a water-stressed country like India is if they were rain-water-harvesting all their water, or if they were operating only during rains (which is financially impossible for a 24x7x365 industry). And that would make their drinks too expensive to do any business in India.

On top of that, this excerpt is raising a lot more questions : How the heck is a beverage-making industry, which manufactures a product for human consumption, having such toxic pollutants in their effluents that they need to be prevented from seeping into the ground? What exactly are they putting in??

"And pollution from the plant has destroyed our fields." In 2002-2003, construction work on a national highway blocked the plant's effluent discharge drain, flooding the nearby fields with wastewater and destroying hectares of standing crop. Farmers say that effluents seeped into the soil, rendering it infertile.

Following complaints about Coca-Cola's bottling plants in Kerala and West Bengal, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) conducted a survey of 16 soft-drink bottling plants across India. The effluent sludge of eight Coca-Cola bottling plants was found to have unacceptably high levels of cadmium, lead and chromium. Mehdiganj was one of them.

P M Ansari, Additional Director, CPCB, explained that the high heavy metal concentrations posed a health risk if the sludge was not disposed of correctly. "The sludge must be stored in lined, concrete landfills specifically designed for this purpose." At present, Uttar Pradesh has no such landfills."


---------- Forwarded message ----------

Story of Stuff Project

Coca-Cola has been ordered to shut down operations in Mehdiganj, India for using too much water and violating pollution laws, but the corporation wants to keep business running as usual.

Tell Coca-Cola to respect Mehdiganj villagers' right to clean water and to shut down its plant immediately!

Coca-Cola is determined to drain the village of Mehdiganj, India, dry despite a government order to shut down the plant for using too much water and violating pollution limits. According to Indian authorities, the groundwater level in the village has gone from "safe" to "over-exploited" -- the worst designation of groundwater, before it dries up completely -- in the time the Coke plant has been operating.

Mehdiganj villagers have been protesting against the Coke plant for years. The villagers' protests have escalated as their wells have dried up, forcing them to walk ever-greater distances for fresh water. As the water level drops, crop yields are dropping with it, sucking out the economic basis of the village and endangering the livelihoods of thousands of residents. Meanwhile, Coke has spent much of this year pressing for a massive expansion of the plant that would increase water use by five times. The company has shown that it is totally disconnected from the danger it is imposing on the village.

Tell Coke to follow the Pollution Control Board's order to close its Mehdiganj plant immediately!

Studies conducted by both the Indian government agencies and independent organizations have found that Coke has located many of its plants in water-stressed areas of India and bottling operations in these areas have threatened groundwater in many places. Furthermore, Coke plants have also been caught polluting the surroundings and selling toxic waste to unsuspecting farmers to be used as fertilizer.

After years of watching groundwater levels drop dramatically, Mehdiganj villagers finally have Coca-Cola on the defensive. One villager, sixty year-old Savitri Rai, says police beat her when she first began protesting the plant a decade ago. In June this year, under pressure from the community, the government ordered the Coke plant to be shut down for a number of violations. Coke has appealed the closure in the courts and has been allowed to temporarily operate while the courts consider the appeal. Meanwhile, a massive expansion that Coke had been planning, which would greatly expand the rate at which it sucked up Mehdiganj's water, was permanently denied.

Tell Coke to respect villagers' right to water and end its exploitive operations in Mehdiganj, India!

While there is no denying Coca-Cola's enormous set of resources, we have people power on our side. In joining in solidarity with the people of Mehdiganj, our Community can influence global public opinion and help villagers secure access to clean, safe, local water. Water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource around the world. Many corporations argue that they are free to use as much water as they want, even if it makes entire areas uninhabitable. Careful stewardship of our resources is at the heart of our Story, ensuring that we'll be around to continue telling stories long into the future.

The Story of Stuff Project works to draw connections between the cycle of production and   consumption and its impact on society. By joining in the stories of communities such as Mehdiganj, we can help illuminate the impact that corporations like Coca-Cola have on peoples' lives. Coke tries to bill itself as a socially responsible company but our Community has the   power to expose its dirty practices to customers worldwide, bringing much-needed pressure for positive change. When our Community unites behind a cause as important as this one, we can create a force that can't be ignored.

Thank you for all you do!
Allison Cook, Director of Community Engagement, on behalf of The Story of Stuff team
India Resource Center: Mehdiganj - The Issues, March 7, 2013
Bloomberg: Farmers Fight Coca-Cola as India's Groundwater Dries Up, October 9, 2014

At the Story of Stuff, we're rewriting the narrative that has us overworked and trashing the planet. We're working to build a world that is healthy, sustainable, and just.

Sustain our movement.

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