Uttarakhand Government signs MoU with Coca Cola
Signing up a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Coca Cola for a bottling project meant to be set up in the verdant region near Vikas Nagar in district Dehradun, 32 kms from Sahaspur, has kicked up a major row in Uttarakhand in the past month. On one hand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna-led government is touting the MoU with Coca Cola for setting up Rs. 600 crore plant with a potential of providing job to at least 1000 local persons as a big achievement; on the other hand, local villagers, NGOs, Himalayan environmentalists and ecologists are up in arms against setting up of the project. This high drama has created curiosity among the people in faraway regions like Kerala, Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Orissa and elsewhere who have already fought bitterly their long-drawn battle against Coca Cola and chased it away.
Uttarakhand BJP president Tirath Singh Rawat said the BJP would oppose Coca Cola’s proposed bottling plant at Chharba village expressing apprehensions about its harmful effects on the fragile Himalayan ecology. Calling the MoU signed between Coca Cola and Uttarakhand government an ‘over hurried decision’, Tirath Singh Rawat said the BJP would fight tooth and nail against the MoU signed with Coca Cola. “The Congress Government should have conducted an elaborate geological study over the possible impact of water-thirsty project on the Himalayan ecology prior to entering into the pact with the multinational company”, Rawat said. The project would be a burden on the water resources of the region where several hydel projects are already located. Coca Cola bottling plant may lead to drinking water crisis for the people and agriculture in the region, besides for hydro-electric projects which are underway. Rawat said if the state government does not scrap the MoU, the BJP would take to the streets in the state, and take the battle to the common men. Rawat also said, “BJP will also take the fight before the Central Government in New Delhi and would also provide all the possible help to the local farmers in their fight against Coca Cola.”
Passions have risen suddenly in Dehra Dun region against internationally notorious multinational company Coca Cola. People’s Science Institute—Navdanya—and the Friends of Doon, both local environment protection groups, have also urged Uttarakhand CM Vijay Bahuguna to scrap the memorandum of understanding forthwith signed with Coca Cola for the bottling project of the cold drinks and fruit juices. They said, “We would never allow Coca Cola to set up its plant in the ecologically sensitive Doon valley, which would gobble up all the water resources, above ground and underground, like a thirsty demon, cause pollution in water bodies in the area with highly dangerous chemical and metal pollutants. In the very beginning, for purpose of setting up of plant, they would have to cut thousands of green fruit-bearing and other trees to clear the 70-acre land plot at village Chharba. This would turn the lush green Himalaya into a desert,” roared Vandana Shiva of Navdanya, a noted environmentalist. Addressing a press conference in Dehra Dun, she also called Coca Cola Company a ‘water dacoit’.
Four days after signing of the MoU on April 17, she arrived in Dehra Dun on April 21 to label Uttarakhand CM’s decision as unfortunate for the people. She said Coca Cola has set up its bottling plants at 24 different locations in the country, and at all these locations the groundwater and underground water has gone beyond the local people’s reach. People, their domestic animals, agricultural lands, wild animals in forests and forests’ greenery—all were hit by severe water scarcity. “You can go to all these locations to verify the situation for yourself, so that you may come to believe the crisis created by Coca Cola.” Vandana Shiva suggested Vijay Bahuguna to visit Plachimada in Palakkad district of Kerala, and listen to the leaders of Plachimada Coca Cola Virudha Samity what harrowing tales they have to say. She also suggested him to visit Mehndiganj in district Varanasi of UP to be apprised of the tales of woes.
Florence Pandhi of the Friends of Doon recalled how local activists stood united to chase away the limestone mining mafia from Doon valley 30 years ago as unscientific mining was affecting adversely the natural water resources and the local environment. She said, “We fought the limestone mining mafia unitedly, and we will again fight against cold drink mafia Coca Cola which has come to rob us of our natural water resources.”
Other environmentalists Avadhesh Kaushal, Anil Prakash Joshi, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, and Suresh Bhai have also joined Vandana Shiva in denouncing vehemently the MoU signed with Coca Cola. Residents of Chharba village have also begun their protests against the bottling plant and cutting down the trees from the land plot which otherwise belongs to the Chharba gram panchayat.
Gram pradhan of Chharba village Romiram Jaiswal has already started preparations for legal battle in court against Coca Cola. He said the land on which the bottling plant is proposed to be set up belonged to their gram panchayat, and the state government never sought their opinion prior to deciding about the proposed Coca Cola project. He said as per law it is mandatory for the state government and Coca Cola to seek our opinion and approval first, and if need be the villagers may also resort to voting on passing or rejecting the proposal, but here Vijay Bahuguna who has earlier been a High Court Judge has taken us for granted. Romiram Jaisawal asserted vehemently that Bahuguna’s unlawful behaviour shows clearly that he is an anti-law character, never fit to be appointed as Hon’ble Judge. He said in 2006, the then DM Dehra Dun organised a meeting of villagers of Chharba to propose setting up of Dehra Dun University on this piece of land; for the educational purpose only the villagers acquiesced to give away the land on a few conditions. But these conditions were never fulfilled by the government. On March 27, 2006, the state government issued a notification announcing setting up of Doon University as the Centre of Excellence on about 40 hectare of land (about 520 bighas) at Chharba, but the proposed university never came up, and in revenue records the land in question continued to be in the name of Chharba gram panchayat till six months ago. However, in November 2012, the administration first transferred 40 hectares land in the name of Doon University, then again clandestinely transferred it in the name of CIDCUL industrial area. This is a gigantic fraud on the village people, the village head said, against which he would fight a pitched legal battle in the court of law, and would defeat Bahuguna, he asserted.