A new rally gets under way, protesting Coca-Cola and PepsiCo's activities in India and asserting community rights over water resources
A three-week yatra (protest rally) to assert community rights over water was flagged off from Mehdiganj in Uttar Pradesh on September 10. The water rights rally will specifically target multinational soft drink giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo and highlight their exploitation of this increasingly scarce natural resource.
The Jal Adhikar Yatra will pass through most of Uttar Pradesh, stopping at both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo plants in the state to call attention to the water shortages and pollution allegedly being caused by these companies. It will also stop in Kala Dera, in Rajasthan, the site of a people's campaign that accuses the Coca-Cola bottling plant of creating water shortages.
The water rights campaign will end in the Indian capital New Delhi on October 3, and will include a sit-in in front of the Coca-Cola India headquarters in Gurgaon. "The yatra is a campaign signalling the beginning of the end of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in India," says Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti, one of the chief organisers of the rally that has also planned a series of protests against Coca-Cola's bottling plant in Mehdiganj.
"Privatisation of water, where the cola companies get large amounts of groundwater practically for free, is not working for us. It leaves us without water and is destroying the lives and livelihoods of thousands of farmers in India. Communities must have primary rights over water," says Master.
A recent study on water conditions in eight villages within a 3 km radius of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj found that the number of wells that had dried up increased seven-fold since Coca-Cola commenced operations in the area, and, on an average, water levels in wells in the area had dropped 18 feet.
Both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have been under fire in India recently after a study showed that their products contained excessively high levels of pesticides. Seven Indian states have imposed partial bans on the sale of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo products, and the state of Kerala in south India has also shut down both companies' plants.
Internationally too, the soft drink giants gave been under fire for their unethical labour and manufacturing practices and the inherently unhealthy nature of their products. Schools and universities across the US, UK and Canada are placing bans on the sale of these products.
Dr Sandeep Pandey of the National Alliance of People's Movements, also one of the primary organisers of the march, said that the "focal point of the yatra is to highlight the miseries of farmers and communities as a result of the extraction of enormous (quantities of) groundwater by companies for commercial use".
Organisations have called for a boycott of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo products. "The Government of India must immediately adopt stringent measures to protect the natural resources of the country from rampant exploitation," says Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Centre, an international campaigning organisation. "Coca-Cola and PepsiCo's involvement in India cannot be called development. Their activities deprive the very fabric of India -- its farmers -- of one of its most essential resources, water."
Source: ANI, September 11, 2006
www.indiaresource.org, September 10, 2006