Coca-Cola rapped for using too much water

Coca-Cola has been labelled a 'shameless and unethical company' after being forced to abandon a new $25m bottling plant in northern India because it was extracting too much groundwater.

The Mehdigani plant in Varanasi had already been fully built but could not operate commercially as it did not have the required permits from the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA).

The CGWA and the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) announced their decision before the National Green Tribunal (NGT), India’s green court, yesterday (25 August).

They explained how a five-fold increase in groundwater allowance that Coca-Cola had sought for its new facility would further deteriorate the conditions in the area. The groundwater conditions in the Mehdiganj area have gone from ‘safe’ when Coca-Cola began operations in June 1999 to ‘critical’ in 2009.

Amit Srivastava from the India Resource Center, which has led the campaign to challenge the new plant, said: “Coca-Cola is a shameless and unethical company that has consistently placed its pursuit of profits over the well-being of communities that live around its facilities.

“It is absolutely reprehensible for a globally recognized company like Coca-Cola to seek further groundwater allowances from an area that has become acutely water-stressed, and that too in large part due to Coca-Cola’s mining of groundwater alone.”

Water neutral

Coca-Cola reportedly sent a letter to the CGWA two days before the rejection was to be made public, stating that it was ‘withdrawing’ its application.

The drinks giant has previously identified India as a major market where it seeks to derive significant future profits. But back in January, edie reported that local authorities in India reclaimed some land from the beverage company after it was found guilty of illegally occupying space at the Mehdiganj bottling plant.

In June, Coca-Cola said it was on track to become completely ‘water neutral’ by 2020, having last year returned 68% of the water used in its finished beverages to the communities it was taken from.

But, speaking of this ruling on the Mehdiganj bottling plant, Srivastava concluded: “We are delighted that the Indian government is doing what it is supposed to do – protect the common property resource of groundwater from rampant exploitation, particularly in water-stressed areas.

“This should serve as a notice to other companies that they cannot run roughshod over Indian rules and regulations and deny community rights over groundwater.”

Read edie’s exclusive interview with Coca-Cola’s director of corporate responsibility and sustainability, Joe Franses, to find out more about the group’s various green initiatives.

Luke Nicholls

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