"The state government of Kerala in south India has banned the production and sale of Coca-Cola and Pepsi in the state. The companies will be asked to close their operations entirely.
Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan stated today that the ban was being imposed because of the health hazards posed by Coca-Cola and Pepsi. "We have arrived at the decision to ask both Coke and Pepsi to stop production and distribution of all their products, based on scientific studies which have proved that they are harmful," said Mr. Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan.
Chief Minister Achuthanandan also pointed to the four year campaign by the community of Plachimada in Kerala where the community has protested falling water levels and pollution of the groundwater and soil - directly as a result of the Coca-Cola company's bottling operations in the area.
This is extremely exciting news, particularly if you have been following the story in Plachimada from the beginning. If you missed it, let me give you some of the background.
In March 2000, Coca-Cola commissioned a plant in Plachimada, Palghat Kerala, to produce 1,224,000 bottles of soft drink, for which they were issued a conditional licence to install a motor to draw water. However, Coca-Cola started to take far more water than it was legally permitted to extract, and the water level in the area fell dramatically. To make matters worse, the plant also pumped wastewater into dry bore wells within the company premises and promoted its toxic waste sludge as free fertilizer to the local farmers, thus contaminating the remaining ground water in the area. The surrounding areas began to experience serious water shortages, including the drying up of 260 bore wells which were provided by public authorities for drinking water and agriculture facilities. By 2003, the district medical officer informed the people of Plachimada their water was unfit for drinking.
The people of Plachimada, Kerala, resolved to take back control of their water. In 2002 the local women started a dharna (sit-up) at the gates of the plant in protest over Coca-Cola’s illegal extraction of the region’s water. In 2003, local people took Coca-Cola to the Kerala Supreme Court to stop them from illegally extracting ground water. The court ruled in their favour, but the plant continued its operations. On 21 September 2003 the women organised a rally that attracted large numbers of protesters from the region and beyond. The protest came under the international spotlight, when the World Water Conference was held in India between 21 and 22 January 2004, and drew global activists like Jose Bové and Maude Barlow to Plachimada to support the local activists. The movement continued to gain strength until 17 February 2004 when the Kerala Chief Minister was forced to place a temporary ban on the Coca-Cola plant from extracting any more groundwater.
Even since then Coca-Cola has been challenging the ban in court and has repeatedly stated their intentions to continue their operations "for the good of the community." However, now it looks like it is all over for them in Kerala and they may soon be faced with the bill for the damage that they have inflicted on the Plachimada community, which is great.
"The cola companies have inflicted a lot of damage to the fabric of the community in Plachimada by destroying lives and livelihoods. We are now putting the companies on notice that they must make reparations to the affected community members, and the campaign will move to a new stage," said R. Ajayan of the Plachimada Solidarity Committee, a statewide coalition that has been campaigning on the water depletion and pollution issues.Even better news is that it may be over for Coca-Cola and Pepsi in all of India if everything goes to plan.
Last week, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a leading public interest research and advocacy group in India, released a study that found a "cocktail of between three to five different pesticides in all samples" of Coca-Cola and Pepsi products they tested in India. On an average, the CSE study said, the pesticide residues were 24 times higher than European Union (EU) standards and those proposed by the Bureau of India Standards (BIS), the government body responsible for standardization and quality control.Now if only campaigners in Colombia could be so successful...
Coca-Cola and Pepsi have now been banned in government and educational institutions by many states in India, including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi.
Efforts are underway in India to develop regulations that will govern safety standards for soft drinks to ensure consumer safety. The Centre for Science and Environment has accused the Coca-Cola company and Pepsico, as well as "powerful interests in the government", of blocking the adoption of the standards.
The Supreme Court of India has also ordered Coca-Cola and Pepsico to reveal the ingredients in their products in six weeks, or face a potential national ban.