News of Coca Cola’s new bottling plant and the mind-boggling amount of water it is taking up, should make you look at the generic mixer in a whole new light.
US multi-national Coca Cola’s new Rs 500 crore bottling plant at Sanand, an upcoming industrial area near Ahmedabad, Gujarat, is slated to receive a monstrous 3 million litres per day (3 MLD) sourced from the Narmada canal, a little less than than the 5 MLD that the company had initially applied for, a state official announced last week. This share is to be taken out of the water that the state receives from the Sardar Sarovar Dam. The project was initially put forth as a means to provide water to the drought-stricken parts of North Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kachh as well as electricity, all described under the over-arching theme of development. The upcoming plant is to produce soft drinks like Coca Cola, Sprite, Fanta and Thums-up.
Let’s not forget that these dams that Coca Cola is now sourcing the water from, have already displaced and rendered large numbers of underprivileged communities destitute, mostly tribal people and farmers whose livelihoods depended on the Narmada river. This, and the large-scale devastation of the riverine ecosystem, are the basis for the ‘Narmada Bachao Aandolan,’ the mass movement led by the respected activist Medha Patkar that was started in 1985 to save India’s largest west-flowing river, appealing to society and the world at large to think about the decisions of the Gujarat government to pursue this ‘development plan’.
Currently two major manufacturing units in Sanand – Tata Nano and Ford Motors – are being provided with 20 lakh litres of Narmada water, Patkar said in a recent statement, underlining that the development suggests the “basic idea behind the Sardar Sarovar project.” The Gujarat government’s decision to source Narmada waters to Coca Cola comes at a time when, Patkar added, there are already “many public protests happening against the company’s plants across India.” In fact, Coca Cola has been “criticized world over for exploiting the ground water resources.”
“The requirement of Coca Cola is little more than those of the industries that are currently operating at Sanand. However, their plant will have zero-effluent discharge,” a state official told The Indian Express, adding that requisite permission from the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) has also been taken for the project.
The dubious upside pales in comparison to the fact that 40-45 thousand families are residing in the submerged areas around Sardar Sarovar Dam, waiting to be rehabilitated as promised under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Patkar points out that the displaced people should be treated as village natives, who should continue to be in possession of their land, according to the act. “This is one of the reasons why efforts to displace these people are unlawful,” she added. Headed by Justice Shravan Shankar Jha, an inquiry commission is still probing into the decisions of the government in rehabilitation of these people and massive corruption in the whole process.
Patkar also insists, “The Sardar Sarovar project was pushed in the name of providing Narmada water to the drought stricken parts of North Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch. This resulted into the submergence of villages, high yielding farms, temples and mosques, and forests of the tribal people in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. After such huge losses, now the government is trying to befool people and has planned to provide precious water to Coca Cola, a consumer goods manufacturing company.” A sentiment we tend to largely agree with.
Accusing the Gujarat government of making “a policy shift” away from the promise to provide water, with prime agricultural land being handed over to industrialists, Patkar said, what is worse is, “the state government has started the allotment of 4 lakh hectare (ha) land around the Sardar Sarovar dam for non-agricultural purposes.”
This act of the state government, she added, will “change the basic purpose of the project, yet it is not being questioned by either the Maharashtra or the Madhya Pradesh government.”
All in all, we were left both puzzled and appalled when we first came to learn of Coca Cola’s plans. Why, as per usual, are the commercial causes of an MNC being pitted against the very livelihoods, interests and homes of the locals? That too, the same locals who have been subjected to their fair share of unfair treatment over the last two decades. Coca-Cola already has 24 manufacturing locations in India, the seventh largest market for its products, globally. Now the company’s $5 billion investment plan aims to boost India up to be amongst the top five markets by 2020.
The question we need to be asking is: at what cost?
[Read Narmada Bachao Aandolan’s complete statement on the issue here.]