Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "A great success after 14 years of struggle", said to AsiaNews fr. Anand Mathew IMS, commenting the closure of Coca-Cola plant in Mehdiganj, closed to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh). On June 6 the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the primary central government agency for monitoring pollution, has ordered the plant to be closed. It was held responsible for water shortages and pollution.
Since 2002 Indian Missionary Society (IMS) fr. Mathew has opposed the plant and supported local population. "For this struggle I was imprisoned in 2004 and 2005. Our movement has been made with women and marginalized farmers. Nowhere in India there is such a platform where people of different denomination come together. It was something very unusual for me, and it gives a lot of hope for the future Church, a Church beyond denominations", said the catholic priest, who's been director of cultural centre Vishwa Jyoti Communications in Varanasi for over a decade.
Coca-Cola's bottling operations in Mehdiganj have been the subject of intense public protests since 2003 and the emerging details of Coca-Cola's planned expansion have anguished many community members. Mehdiganj is an agrarian area and farmers use the same depleting groundwater resource to meet all their water needs.
In addition to over-extraction of groundwater, Coca-Cola is also guilty of polluting groundwater resources around its bottling plants in India. In 2003, the CPCB tested the waste from nine Coca-Cola bottling plants and found that all nine were violating the hazardous waste laws of India. CPCB found that the waste from all nine bottling plants had exceeded levels of lead, cadmium or chromium. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola was distributing its toxic waste to farmers around its bottling plants, as fertilizer.
In the case of Mehdiganj, CPCB found excessive levels of cadmium and chromium in the waste from Coca-Cola bottling plant that it had tested. Subsequently, two others tests conducted by other groups (in 2008 and 2010) have also found contamination in and around Coca-Cola's bottling plant in Mehdiganj, including heavy metals.
The company has consistently denied the allegations.