India’s water crisis laid bare by clash with US cola giants

NEW DELHI, April 21, 2010 (AFP) – A pollution fine for Coca-Cola and an order for PepsiCo to cut water use at factories in India have highlighted an intensifying conflict between big business and farmers over natural resources. Last month, a report commissioned by the southern state of Kerala ordered Coca-Cola to pay 47 million dollars in compensation for polluting agricultural land and extracting too much groundwater at a bottling plant.

A similar report submitted at the same time instructed PepsiCo to cut groundwater use by two-thirds at its plant also in Kerala’s Palakkad district.

The twin investigations were ordered by the Kerala government after years of protests by farmers who say industrial projects like those run by the soft drinks giants leave just a small fraction of water for irrigating fields.

“Operating water-guzzling bottling plants in drought-hit areas where farmers do not have access to water is highly unethical and criminal,” said R. Ajayan, who is spearheading the campaign in Kerala.

A report by the World Bank released in March said about 60 percent of aquifers in India would be in a critical condition within 15 years if the trend of indiscriminate exploitation of ground water continued.