Fri, Jun 20, 2014 - Page 15 News List

India bottles up Coca-Cola plant

AFP, LUCKNOW, India

Authorities in northern India have ordered the closure of a Coca-Cola bottling plant at the center of protests alleging it is extracting too much groundwater, an official said on Wednesday.

An antipollution agency official said the Mehdiganj plant in Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh had breached the conditions of its operating license, prompting the order closure earlier this month.

“The plant is closed following our orders,” Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board member secretary J.S. Yadav told reporters. “They have also been asked to take suitable measures to recharge the depleting groundwater level by twice the amount they have extracted... Also, the effluents released by the plant contain pollutants beyond the permissible limits.”

The company has appealed the closure order to India’s environment court, the National Green Tribunal, saying the allegations were false.

Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola Co, said the plant has been in operation for 15 years “complying with all regulatory approvals and applicable laws.”

The company hit a hurdle earlier this year when local authorities said they would demolish the Varanasi plant, claiming it was built on village council land and was “illegal.”

The authorities also imposed a token 126,000 rupee (US$2,100) fine on the company over the land issue.

India has become one of the beverage giant’s fastest-growing markets, thanks to its expanding middle class.

The bottling plant, one of 58 that Atlanta, Georgia-based Coca-Cola has in the sprawling country, has been at the center of protests for years. Activists welcomed the Varanasi plant’s closure, saying that the company has a dismal environmental record.

“Coca-Cola’s thirst for profits in India has placed its business interests over the well-being of communities and the environment, and this is not acceptable,” said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an activist group.

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