500 Anti-Coca-Cola Demonstrators Arrested in India

PLACHIMADA, India, June 9, 2005 (ENS) - Hundreds of community residents and supporters marched to the Coca-Cola factory gates in Plachimada, Kerala on Wednesday to demand that the plant be permanently shut down.

The protesters were met by a large cordon of police officers, and about 500 people were arrested. Police beat a woman protester, who was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, eyewitnesses said. All protesters were released by the end of the day.

The protests, organized by the Coca-Cola Virudha Samara Samiti (Anti Coca-Cola Struggle Committee) and the Plachimada Solidarity Committee, comes two days after the local village council, under pressure from the Kerala High Court, conditionally renewed Coca-Cola's license for three months.

plant

The Coca-Cola bottling plant in Plachimada, Kerala was the scene of a demonstration Wednesday. (Photo courtesy Coca-Cola India)
The Coca-Cola bottling plant in Plachimada has remained closed since March 2004 because the local village council has refused to renew Coca-Cola's license to operate, citing the company for causing severe water shortages to the community.

On June 5, the local village council renewed Coca-Cola's license for three months and with 13 conditions.

This move follows the April 8 decision of Kerala High Court which permitted Coca-Cola to extract up to 500,000 liters of water per day from the common groundwater resource at its Plachimada facility.

The High Court decided that Coca-Cola could extract the groundwater since there is no law regulating groundwater extraction for such purpose in India.

"In the absence of such a law, it makes it difficult to protect natural resources from such predatory behavior by private companies," said indigenous people's rights activist C.R. Bijoy.

"This issue is about much more than the extraction of water by Coca-Cola itself," said Bijoy. "The issue is about who has the fundamental decision making power over the use of natural resources, and it is about the survival of the people."

women

Plachimada women walking to obtain water for their families. (Photo courtesy India Resource Center)
But the company today rejected the three-month conditional licence issued by the Plachimada village council, describing it as a violation of the High Court order.

The "Hindu" newspaper reports that in a letter to the council on Wednesday, the company said that, "the grant of licence for a period of three months is arbitrary and in violation of High Court order of April 7, 2005 and as further clarified on June 1, 2005." The company said the council's limited permit and 13 conditions were issued "in total disregard of the Rule of Law and also the judicial determination."

The Anti Coca-Cola Struggle Committee and the Plachimada Solidarity Committee have vowed not to allow the company to re-open its plant in Plachimada.

"The people of Kerala will not allow the factory to reopen," said R. Ajayan, convener of the Plachimada Solidarity Committee. "Coca-Cola must respect the wish of the community, and the community does not want the plant to restart."

The community in Plachimada has been experiencing severe water shortages after Coca-Cola started operations in the area, and the remaining groundwater as well as soil has been polluted as a result of Coca-Cola's bottling operations, the protesters say.

The company was distributing its solid waste to farmers in the area as fertilizer, until it was found to contain high levels of lead and cadmium, the protesters said.

Coca-Cola India denies this charge and says the waste distribution has been stopped and all unused bio-solids have been recovered from the farmers. The bio-solids are stored at the Plachimada plant "pending agreement with the local authorities on their disposal," the company said.

protesters

Protests against Coca-Cola are not limited to Plachimada. Here, more than 1,500 people marched against Coca-Cola in Mehdiganj, near Varanasi, November 24, 2004. (Photo by Amit Srivastava courtesy India Resource Center)
"Allegations that The Coca-Cola Company is exploiting groundwater in India are without any scientific basis and are also not supported either by the government authorities who regulate our water use in India, academics, or the local communities in which our plants are located," the company says.

"We believe the allegations are motivated more by an anti-globalization agenda, rather than by those with genuine environmental concerns," the company says on its website.

The India Resource Center, which supports the Plachimada Solidarity Committee, makes no secret of the fact that it is against globalization. "India Resource Center is a project of Global Resistance," the organization says. "Global Resistance works to strengthen the movement against corporate globalization by supporting and linking local, grassroots struggles against globalization around the world. Our goal is to ensure that those most impacted by globalization are engaged in and at the forefront of the movement against corporate globalization."

The company says that its water use in Plachimada does not deprive the community of water. "Within approximately five kilometers of the Kerala plant, for example, there are about 200 open shallow wells. Coca-Cola uses only two open shallow wells within the plant. In the same area there are nearly 150 bore wells. There are only six bore wells within our plant and the Coca-Cola plant uses no more than three bore wells at any one time."

But the community of Plachimada has been engaged in a three year battle to hold the Coca-Cola company accountable, and local and international support for the campaign continues to grow rapidly, organizers say.

In addition to seeking the permanent closure of the plant, the protesters are demanding that "the Coca-Cola company accept the authority and jurisdiction of the village council, and stop challenging the village council."

The Supreme Court of India is set to hear an appeal from the village council shortly, and the Coca-Cola company has not decided whether it will reopen the plant, according to media reports.

The organizers of Wednesday's protest have indicated that they will increase the pressure on the company locally to ensure that it cannot re-open.