India Authority Orders Coke Plant Closed

India Authority Orders Coke Plant Closed

Authorities in northern India order the closing of a Coca-Cola bottling plant at the center of protests that claim the facility is extracting too much groundwater.

LUCKNOW, India -- Authorities in northern India have ordered the closure of a Coca-Cola (IW 500/27) bottling plant at the center of protests that it is extracting too much groundwater, an official said Wednesday.

An anti-pollution official said the Mehdiganj plant in Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh had breached the conditions of its operating licence, prompting the closure order earlier this month.

"The plant is closed following our orders," said Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board member secretary J.S. Yadav. "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 plant was asked to produce a permission certificate from a government agency that regulates groundwater use, Yadav said.

The company has appealed the closure order to India's environment court, the National Green Tribunal, he said.

Coca-Cola, the world's largest soft-drink maker, has consistently denied the allegations. Coca-Cola officials could not immediately be contacted for comment.

Years of Opposition

The Indian unit of 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 126,000 rupee ($2,000) fine on Hindustan Coca-Cola Company Private Limited over the land issue.

India is one of Coke's fastest-growing markets thanks to the country's expanding middle class.

The bottling plant, one of 58 that Atlanta-based Coca-Cola has in India, has been at the center of protests for years. Demonstrators accuse the company of creating major water shortages through excessive extraction of water and of polluting groundwater and soil.

Coke last year announced the completion of work to expand the Varanasi bottling facility, which has the capacity to produce 600 polyethylene terephthalate bottles a minute.

Protests have been held against Coke's bottling plants in other parts of the country, alleging depletion of groundwater and pollution.

Activists welcomed the Varanasi plant's closure, claiming 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 Centre, an activist group.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014

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