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Pepsi bottling plant may access water with police protection amidst allegations of groundwater shortage

By Our Representative
In an extraordinary development, reports from Tamil Nadu say that PepsiCo's bottling plant, situated in village Suriyur, has sought police protection for water being trucked in to a disputed plant located in a water-stressed area. In statement, India Resource Centre (IRC), a project of Global Resistance, has said, the plant is sure to “receive police protection”, considering the type of governance prevailing in the state.
An advocacy group, IRC, which is helping a local community campaign to shut down the plant, says, “Local residents and farmers claim there have been water shortages of increasing severity in the area ever since the plant began operations in 2011”, adding, “The plant is run by an Indian company, LA Bottlers, and operates under a contract with the US-based PepsiCo to manufacture Pepsi beverages in the plant.”
Alleging that the plant has been “operating illegally since March 2014”, the IRC says, “LA Bottlers has been in trouble since early last year, as its State Pollution Control Board's permit for ground water abstraction expired on March 31, 2014 and has not been renewed”. It adds, “The company also lacks the required land conversion permit which would allow it to operate as an industry in an agricultural area.”
According to IRC, “The community stepped up its protests against the bottling plant earlier this year, and 47 people were arrested on January 26, India's Republic Day, during a protest in the town of Tiruchirapalli (Trichy), the district's headquarters. The next day LA 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 May 7.”
“On January 29”, the IRC further says, “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 LA Bottlers is seeking to resume production, trucking in water from outside the immediate area.”
This is happening despite the fact that, the statement says, 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.”
Blaming sharp drops in groundwater levels on the Pepsi plant, the IRC says, “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.”
It quotes Vinothraj Seshan of Thanneer Iyakkam, a group at the forefront of the protests, as saying, "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". He adds,"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.”

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