Is the Pepsi brand getting tarnished? Pepsi sign in Rajasthan, India, by Matthew Stevens via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
India: unlawful Pepsi plant wins police protection
20th May 2015
First the Pepsi-Cola bottling company in south India caused outrage by depleting groundwater. Next it was found to be operating without valid permits.Then as protests grew the company won a High Court order giving it police protection. Now locals are vowing to keep the plant shut for good.
If you need police protection to bring in water and to protect your products in a water-stressed area, clearly you are not welcome, and it is better to shut down and leave.
In an extraordinary development, PepsiCo's bottling plant in India has sought - and will receive - police protection for water being trucked in to the disputed plant located in a water-stressed area.
The Pepsi beverage manufacturing plant will also receive police protection for vehicles leaving the factory with finished Pepsi products.
The bottling plant, located in the village of Suriyur in the state of Tamil Nadu in south India, and has been the target of a community-led campaign to shut down the plant.
Local residents and farmers claim there have been water shortages of increasing severity in the area ever since the plant began operations in 2011.
The plant is run by an Indian company, L.A. Bottlers, and operates under a contract with the US-based PepsiCo to manufacture only Pepsi beverages in the plant.
Operating illegally since March 2014
L.A. Bottlers has been in trouble since early last year, as its state Pollution Control Board's permit for ground water abstraction expired on 31st March 2014 and has not been renewed.
The company also lacks the required land conversion permit which would allow it to operate as an industry in an agricultural area.
The community stepped up its protests against the bottling plant earlier this year, and 47 people were arrested on 26th January India's Republic Day, during a protest in the town of Tiruchirapalli (Trichy), the district's headquarters.
The next day L.A. Bottlers applied for an order for police protection from the Madras High Court. The order was approved and delivered to the panchayat (village council) president on 7th May.
On January 29, local authorities responded to the growing protests by sealing the bore wells which provided the plant with groundwater to meet all its production needs, and the bottling plant has not operated since.
But now L.A. Bottlers is seeking to resume production, trucking in water from outside the immediate area. The company also has a case pending before the High Court where it is appealing to be allowed to operate - in spite of its failure to obtain the two permits required by law.
Sharp drops in groundwater levels blamed on Pepsi plant
But local leaders have resolved not to ever allow the company to recommence its operations. Farmers in the area have experienced sharp drops in groundwater levels, dried-up wells, extra expenditures to deepen existing wells and loss of income as a result of reduced crop production due to water shortages.
"Pepsi's bottling plant has drained the water away from the farmers in the area, and there is a lot of suffering as a result", said Vinothraj Seshan of Thanneer Iyakkam, a group at the forefront of the protests.
"It is outrageous that a private company like Pepsi will receive police protection to bring in water for profit while depriving the surrounding community of water, which is essential to sustain life. If anything, it is the public that deserves protection from such a destructive bottling company", he continued.
The campaign has approached various state government authorizes, including the state Pollution Control Board, to reject L.A. Bottlers' licence applications in Suriyur because of the serious water shortages in the area.
"If you feel you need police protection to bring in water and to protect your products in a water-stressed area, clearly you are not welcome, and it is better to shut down and leave", said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning group working with the communities in Suriyur to close the bottling plant.
"It is incumbent upon PepsiCo to ensure that all its franchisees and co-packers - who earn profits for PepsiCo's shareholders - must also adhere to all the rules and regulations of the land. PepsiCo has failed in this regard"
To assuage the growing criticism of beverage companies in India operating in water stressed areas, PepsiCo has made outrageous claims that it has a "positive water balance" in India, a claim strongly disputed by the India Resource Center because the claim is unfounded after scrutiny.
The campaign is calling on New York based PepsiCo to immediately cancel its contract with L.A. Bottlers.
More information: IndiaResource.org
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