[Banashakti Baruah says a Pepsi plant was set up in the Matsya Industrial Area of Alwar, 160 km from Jaipur in 1998. According to calculations, the factory extracted groundwater at the rate of 7,500 litres per hour. Water levels nosedived from 15 to 18 meters to 60 to 90 meters. In 2006, Pepsi had to close its plant. It ran out of water. Now Matsya has been declared a Dark Zone. Fifteen villages live in misery. But Pepsi traipsed off to Chopanki in Bhiwadi in Haryana. It has in fact increased its production capacity by four times, according to the report.]
By Prakriti Aarogya Kendra
Sharafat Ali is an old man who can barely walk. But he came all the way from
to be there at Hazards Centre’s book launch. Ali wanted to tell everyone what his neighbour, the Coca-Cola factory was up to. Ghaziabad
”We have rashes, tumours and tension ever since this cola factory came up in our area agriculture is ruined, so is our health. There’s no grass. Cows don’t yield milk. Twenty-five cows passed out after drinking water released by that factory,” he said.
Sukhbir Shastri, an elderly activist from
, nodded in agreement. The two are members of Azadi Bachao Andolan, an ongoing agitation against the Coca-Cola factory. Ghaziabad
Hazards Centre’s report, ‘How harsh is your soft drink’ has been brought out in collaboration with the People’s Science Institute, Dehradun. It is a chilling study of soil and water contamination around five PepsiCo and Coca- Cola factories. They are located in Mehdiganj and
(Uttar Pradesh), Kaladera and Chopanki (Rajasthan) and one in Panipat, (Haryana). Ghaziabad
You could say places like
are crammed with ugly factories anyway, so pollution is hardly a surprise. But the needle of suspicion points to the cola factories because whether they are in industrial zones or in the countryside, the results are uncannily similar. Ghaziabad
Dunu Roy of Hazards Centre says the activists wanted to do the study in partnership with Coca- Cola and PepsiCo but their offer was rejected. They tried to sneak into cola factories as visitors, says Banjyotsna Baruah, one of the researchers, but they did not succeed.
The researchers did not lose heart, though. They went ahead and examined water in villages in a two to five km radius from the factories. They inspected drains carrying effluents from the factories and collected samples. Cola waste dumped on roadsides was taken away for study. Fields were surveyed for toxic contamination. Eyewitness accounts were carefully documented.
The most important finding that emerged is that all water sources – groundwater and surface water – were contaminated with chromium. Out of 85 water samples collected, 59 had chromium concentration above the permissible limit. Drain water samples also had high COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand) levels – the maximum was 12,417 ppm – suggesting that the effluents must have contained chemicals apart from the three metals analysed (chromium, lead and cadmium).Sludge too had significant amounts of chromium.
“Chromium is widespread,” says
. “Village wells we examined had it too. But it declines the further you go from the cola factories. Why is this happening? What is its origin? We cannot say.“ Roy
The mystery deepens. Such heavy metals are not supposed to be part of any beverage-making process. In fact that’s why no standards have been fixed for them in the Environment Protection Act, 1986. “The illnesses mentioned by Sharafat Ali appear to be due to exposure to excessive chromium,” says
A long list of serious charges are being leveled against the cola companies. If you read the report you will find the cola factories are draining aquifers, dirtying fields, ruining crops and causing ill health. The cola companies are promising jobs and development and spreading poverty and pollution instead.
State governments too are to blame. To permit water-guzzling factories to set up shop in a dry desert state like Rajasthan defies logic. Aquifers are drained of precious groundwater to make a useless drink. That water could grow food, save lives during Rajasthan’s frequent droughts.
Banashakti Baruah says a Pepsi plant was set up in the Matsya Industrial Area of Alwar, 160 km from Jaipur in 1998. According to calculations, the factory extracted groundwater at the rate of 7,500 litres per hour. Water levels nosedived from 15 to 18 meters to 60 to 90 meters. In 2006, Pepsi had to close its plant. It ran out of water. Now Matsya has been declared a Dark Zone. Fifteen villages live in misery. But Pepsi traipsed off to Chopanki in Bhiwadi in Haryana. It has in fact increased its production capacity by four times, according to the report.
Kaladera in Rajasthan is an impoverished arid village, which depends on groundwater. Yet a Coca-Cola factory flourishes here, extracting water. Villagers say the quality and quantity of water has gone down and soon their region will be declared a Dark Zone. Coca Cola claims to be harvesting water. It dug 50 wells in the bed of the Bagawali river which, by the way, has been dry for 15 years. The wells were supposed to be 200 metres deep. In fact, they are only four to five metres deep. You can see the picture in the report.
Adequate compensation for land has not been given to villagers. In Chopanki people said they were given only Rs 10 lakh per hectare whereas the market price was Rs 50 lakhs. In
, people have not received even one-third of the compensation due to them as per government rules, says Sharafat Ali. Ghaziabad
In Mehndiganj village, the anti-cola agitation is especially strong. The gram sabha alleges in 1999 the Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd took the village’s common land. The panchayat, to cool down local tempers, said the company would give jobs and develop the region. Neither happened.
The Gaon Bachao Sangharsh Samiti now leads the agitation. It points out that the village has lost its land and water. About 25 per cent of wells have dried up. The water table in Mehndiganj, Nagepur and Bhikaripur has dropped 2.8 meters between 2005 and 2006. The company would periodically release its polluted water into farmers’ fields. The unsuspecting farmers used it for irrigation. Now they say their fields have turned infertile. The cola factory has built a drain which empties its leftover water into the
Cola sludge thrown on roadsides is causing health problems. According to a CPCB study in 2003, this sludge has dangerous levels of cadmium, chromium and lead – confirming Hazards Centre’s findings.
The Hazards Centre study was carried out at the request of communities living around Coca-Cola and Pepsi factories. Its genesis can be traced to the year 2004. At that time, Plachimada in Palghat district of Kerala rose in revolt against the Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages Private Ltd factory situated in its vicinity. The Plachimada panchayat pointed out that the cola factory was depleting groundwater, wells were turning dry and the quality of water was suspect. The factory was duping farmers by passing off its sludge as ‘fertilizer’. When farmers used it on their fields, their crops withered away.
A Chennai lab tested water samples here and pronounced the water unfit for use. The Plachimada Solidarity Committee then requested Hazards Centre and the People’s Science Institute to do a detailed study. They found groundwater samples contained high amounts of lead, chromium and cadmium.
When the Plachimada study was presented to the Anti Coke Pepsi Movement in
in July 2006, participants requested a similar study be done in 11 cola factory areas. Since Hazards Centre did not have money to do such an extensive study, it covered only five of the locations suggested. New Delhi