by Amit Srivastava
India Resource Center
March 9, 2009
San Francisco: As the summer of 2009 approaches, the village of Kala Dera in north India is bracing itself for yet another season of acute water shortages - thanks largely to Coca-Cola.
As it is, accessing water is a daunting task for the villagers of Kala Dera. Kala Dera is located in the desert state of Rajasthan - one of the driest parts of India. Kala Dera has experienced eight years of drought in the last twenty five years!
In 1998, the Central Ground Water Board, a government agency, classified the groundwater in Kala Dera as overexploited - declaring that the existing demands on the groundwater were not sustainable.
Yet two years later, in the year 2000, Coca-Cola started its bottling plant in Kala Dera.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened next.
Groundwater levels dropped dramatically, and wells ran dry, farmers did not have enough water to have successful crop yields, and women now had to walk miles longer just to access potable water. Over 60 villages in the vicinity of the Coca-Cola bottling plant felt the dramatic impacts once Coca-Cola started its operations in Kala Dera.
According to government figures, the water tables in Kala Dera fell nearly 10 meters in just the first five years of Coca-Cola's operations!
And to add insult to injury, Coca-Cola extracts the vast majority of the water in the summer months - exactly when the water shortages are the most acute for the villagers, even without Coca-Cola.
The deteriorating water conditions in Kala Dera could have been prevented quite easily.
Coca-Cola should never have located its bottling plant in a drought prone area which had already been declared as overexploited by the government.
It was malfeasance on the part of Coca-Cola to locate its plant in such a water-deficit area, and it was a grave mistake on the part of the Indian government to allow the plant to be located in Kala Dera.
Community Allegations Confirmed by Coca-Cola
The community of Kala Dera has challenged the Coca-Cola bottling plant since 2003, making it very clear that the company's operations had exacerbated the water crisis in the area, and that Coca-Cola must shut down its plant.
And the community assertions were confirmed in 2008, and that too by a study funded by the Coca-Cola company itself!
In 2006, the International Campaign Against Coca-Cola forced Coca-Cola to agree to an independent assessment of its operations in India. The assessment - paid for by Coca-Cola - was released in January 2008.
The assessment was a scathing indictment of Coca-Cola's operations in India.
The assessment, conducted by the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), an ally of Coca-Cola, saved its strongest language for Kala Dera.
The assessment confirmed that the Kala Dera "plant is located in a water-scarce, drought-prone area" and that the water extraction by Coca-Cola has "significant impacts" on Kala Dera.
The assessment made four recommendations to Coca-Cola for the Kala Dera plant - including shutting down the plant - all of which made clear that Coca-Cola must not use the groundwater in Kala Dera anymore.
The four recommendations were:
Transport water from the nearest aquifer that may not be stressed
Store water from low-stress seasons
Relocate the plant to a water-surplus area
Shut down this facility
Needless to say, the community of Kala Dera welcomed the recommendations. Meeting the recommendations - Coca-Cola not using the groundwater in Kala Dera - would mean significantly less demand on the groundwater, which would ensure that the community needs for water as well as the farmers needs for water were met first.
One summer has already passed and Coca-Cola has continued to extract water from the Kala Dera aquifer, completely dismissing the recommendations of the study that it paid for itself!
Once again, the village of Kala Dera and surrounding villages have had to do with less water, resulting in extreme hardships to the community, and in particular the women and farmers.
Such is the arrogance and impunity of Coca-Cola in India, and it is accompanied by a public relations spin that can be only described as bizarre and offensive.
Responding to the media about shutting down the plant in Kala Dera, Coca-Cola India's CEO said, "Walking away is the easiest thing we can do. That's not going to help that community build sustainability."
Instead, the Coca-Cola company has decided to support drip water irrigation in the area working with fifteen farmers! Yes, fifteen! Kala Dera itself has a population of 10,000 people, with upwards of 80% engaged in agriculture!
It is time, we think, to remind Coca-Cola that they were not invited to build sustainable communities in India, and neither to support farming best practices. This is simply not their expertise, and India will not be served well with Coca-Cola advising us on sustainable development and agricultural best practices.
It is time for Coca-Cola to acknowledge the conclusion from the assessment that the Kala Dera "plant's operations in this area would continue to be one of the contributors to a worsening water situation and a source of stress to the communities around."
If Coca-Cola is serious about sustainable communities, as it announces to everyone through its "Corporate Social Responsibility" initiatives, then the company would meet one of the recommendations made by the study it funded.
Meeting both Coca-Cola's and the community's needs for water in Kala Dera are not sustainable.
One has to go, and it must be Coca-Cola.
SEND a FAX to the CEO of Coca-Cola - Respect Communities in India, Shut Down Kala Dera Plant! http://www.indiaresource.org/action/faxcokeenglishfeb09.php
Amit Srivastava is the Director of India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization based in San Francisco, USA.
India Resource Center