1st April, 2004
I’m sitting opposite the large Coca-Cola bottling plant next to the village of Plachimada in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Plachimada is a farming village of about 800 families, many of them tribal. The ugly factory looks rather out of place in such a beautiful setting, the Western Ghats mountains clearly visible in the distance.
Behind me a child holds a placard that says, ‘fresh air, fresh water, our birth right!’ Villagers have been keeping an ongoing vigil here for 518 days now, and I’ve come to find out why. Coca-Cola arrived in Plachimada three years ago.
The site was chosen because it had one of the most plentiful supplies of groundwater in Kerala and because it provided an ideal location from which to supply soft drinks to both Kerala and Tamil Nadu; the village is situated close to the border between the two states. Quite why Kerala needed Coca-Cola at all was a bit of a puzzle to me: on my visit I passed stalls all over the place selling delicious freshly blended fruit juices in a multitude of flavours. But the corporation took 38 hectares of prime agricultural land near the village and built a big factory that soon began turning water into fizzy pop, churning out as many as 1,224,000 bottles per day.
This massive operation requires a lot of water: around one and a half million litres of groundwater per day in fact. That’s five times the amount of water that ends up in the bottles. Needless to say, Coca-Cola pays nothing to the local villagers for their precious groundwater.
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