Last week, the drinks major handed over a preliminary cheque to the State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation of Uttarakhand to set the ball rolling on the project, which will involve a 60-acre plant to produce non-alcoholic carbonated beverages, juices, fruit-based drinks and packaged drinking water.
Vijay Bahuguna, Uttarakhand’s chief minister, had overseen the agreement and said the government had already allotted land for the factory, which would be constructed over two phased. He voiced his optimism that the deal would attract more investment to the state.
However, a number of local environmental protection groups including Navdanya, the People’s Science Institute and the Friends of Doon, have since urged Bahuguna to immediately cancel the agreement.
Call for resignations
“We will never allow Coca-Cola to set up its plant in the ecologically sensitive Doon Valley as the plant, besides stealing our water, will pollute the groundwater with highly dangerous chemicals and metals causing untold misery to the local community and convert the neighbouring agricultural lands into wastelands,” said Vandana Shiva of Navdanya.
The local groups have had a long history of success in protecting the local environment. Most famously, activists there brought an end to the powerful limestone mining “mafia” 30 years ago when their practice was shown to adversely affect the water resources and climate of the Doon Valley.
“This arbitrary decision would put an end to all development activity up to five kilometres on both sides of the Bhagirathi Ganga leading to a grinding halt to all development and power projects, including roads in the highly sensitive frontier area,” said environmentalist Avdhash Kaushal.
Calling the decision to allow the plant’s development a “highly insensitive decision of the Union environment ministry”, the campaigner also called on the chief minister and all state lawmakers to resign in protest
“Does not India have the expertise to produce power from Himalayan rivers without affecting the ecology?” he the government.
Water sources safe
However, the Centre quickly moved to dismiss the protesters’ concerns. "We will ensure [Coca-Cola] takes all the mandatory clearances, including the environmental ones, before beginning the process of setting up its plant," said Rakesh Sharma, the principal secretary for industries.
He added the plant would initially only need between 50,000 and 200,000 litres of water for its operations, and not tap into underground water resources as is widely feared.