Water Woes

Ten years after a Coca-Cola bottling plant, in India’s southern state of Kerala was closed, after residents claimed it was draining and polluting water supplies, a Coca-Cola bottling plant has been ordered to close in northern India, after local farmers blamed it for using too much water. Fresh headches have been created for the world’s biggest soft-drink maker, in one of its most important markets. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, where ground water levels have been critical for more than a decade, the state authorities withdrew consent for the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Plant. Owing to wasteful irrigation practices that state governments are struggling to address, acute water shortages are widespread in India. Water scarcity is high on the list of risks facing multi-nationals, operating in regions, where supplies are limited. The Kerala incident and the UP closure have raised awareness about water risks among global companies. Summer’s soaring temperatures create a peak season for India’s soft-drinks industry. Coke plans to invest some $5 billion in India, between 2012 and 2020. The country could be one of Coke’s five biggest markets, within the next few years. The shut-down would have little impact on Coke’s business, as the single-line plant is one of the smallest bottling units, producing an estimated 26,500 kilolitres of beverage a year. Over time Coke has been making efforts to improve its own use of water, as well as that of local communities. The UP bottling plant closure came as Coke sought permission to expand the facility.

Besides Coke there are many soft-drink companies, including the giant Pepsi, that are destroying water resources in many states without being questioned by any political party. Packaged drinking water is the new of area of flourishing business that will soon create severe water crisis in many parts of the country. In Bengal where arsenic contamination of ground water is very high, these soft-drink bottling plants are simply compounding woes to the residents living near the vicinity of such plants. People across the country are less aware of the impending danger these soft-drink and packaged water bottle companies are posing to the people.

Safe drinking water is not available to most Indians in rural India and now traditional agriculture dependent on water is being threatened by heavy withdrawal of ground water by these companies. People can survive without soft-beverages but they cannot survive without safe drinking water.

After an aggressive elimination of local companies and merger of domestic big houses, Coke and Pepsi have a virtual monopoly over India’s soft-beverages and packaged drinking water market. They are ruining India’s water resources. Health hazards apart, they will adversely affect Indian agriculture as Coke is doing it in Uttar Pradesh at the moment.

Vol. 47, No.7, Aug 24 - 30, 2014