Hundreds of protesters marched against a Coca-Cola factory in Kerala, south India, on Thursday of last week to demand that the plant be permanently shut down.
The protesters were met at the factory gates by a cordon of police officers, and around 500 people were arrested.
Police also attacked a woman protester, who had to be taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. All protesters were released by the end of the day.
Local people say the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Plachimada has caused severe water shortages for their community. They have been campaigning against the factory for three years.
In April 2004 the local village council refused to renew the factory’s licence. The factory has remained shut down since then.
But this decision was overruled last week by Kerala’s high court, prompting the council to renew the licence for three months with 13 conditions. Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, Coke’s Indian arm, has refused this conditional licence, claiming that the council is acting beyond its powers.
Campaigners from the Plachimada Solidarity Committee and the Anti Coca-Cola Stuggle Committee have now vowed to prevent the bottling plant from reopening.
“Coca-Cola must respect the wish of the community — and the community does not want the plant to restart,” said R Ajayan, convener of the Plachimada Solidarity Committee.
Villagers in Plachimada started experiencing severe water shortages shortly after the Coca-Cola plant — one of India’s largest — started operations in the area.
The factory drew around 1.5 million litres of groundwater every day, according to some estimates, while polluting the remaining groundwater and soil.
The local village council has appealed against the high court decision to India’s supreme court, which will hear the case shorty.
Amit Srivastava is coordinator of the India Resource Centre. For updates on the struggle against Coca-Cola in Kerala, go to the India Resource Centre website at www.indiaresource.org