Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Water needs-Food industry Vs Agriculture, opposing pressures!

Soda which is the international name given to sweetened fizz drinks like Coke and Pepsi is gain in troubled 'waters"; literally! These beverages are focus of attention from health critics as well as conservationists who blame the bottlers for over utilization of water and environmental pollution through the sludge they let out. Farmers are agitating wherever the soda plants are located because of their fear that such massive extraction of ground water causes water shortage affecting their livelihood. Interestingly the two soda giants are also courting controversy in their own country, USA because of the widely held perception that their products sweetened with sugar cause many health disorders including obesity. Because of their vice-like grip on the political class that rule the country, they are never restrained from hawking their "potion", especially to young kids. In India the Delhi Government has laid red carpet for foreign investors in the hope that their investments will generate significant employment in the country. Unfortunately the impact of this open arm policy on the common man is never kept in mind when such FDI proposals are cleared. The Coke bottling plant to be set up in Gujarat is in the news recently because of the reckless policy of the state government in allotting huge volume of water from Narmada river which is supposed to be meant for agriculture sector. Here are the details of the drama unfolding in that state and the common man is just a mute spectator on the sidelines unable to do any thing to stop this loot of public water resources.

"Soft drinks giant Coca-Cola is finding itself in troubled waters, again. After rows over water usage at its plants in Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, it is now the turn of its Gujarat factory.Congress leader Ahmed Patel has questioned the Gujarat government's decision to allot to a Coca-Cola plant over three million litres of water a day from the Sardar Sarovar Dam, even as many villages in Sanand go without water.In a letter to Chief Minister Anandiben Patel on October 10, Patel expressed concern over her government's September decision and noted that the dam had been built to provide water to drought-prone parts of North Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch. Patel highlighted concerns raised by non-government organisations and citizens' groups over the alleged daily effluent discharge of 450 kilolitres by the plant, which executives of the multinational beverage company said were baseless because the unit was located in a no-effluent industrial cluster. Coca-Cola India executives did not want to get drawn into the controversy. They said the company had taken all approvals for the plant and any response to Patel's letter should come from the Gujarat chief minister, to whom it was addressed. The plant, being set up by Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, the largest bottling partner of Coca-Cola India, will be the company's second unit in Gujarat. Coca-Cola has a plant in Goblej in Kheda district, its second-largest in the country after the Dasna unit in Uttar Pradesh. The Gujarat government has allotted 185,000 square metres to the company to make sweetened aerated drinks like Coke, Sprite, Fanta and Thums Up".

Governments never seem to learn any lesson from past experiences as evidenced by the attitude of the Gujarat Government in allocating precious natural resources especially after the humiliating retreat of this soft rink giant from Kerala a few years ago because of the same problem. Politician-industry nexus is not new in India and diversion of water from dams built for irrigation to sugar mills and breweries in Maharashtra is another example of this nebulous practice. A moot question that the country faces is whether a health debilitating beverage industry can be given priority over food production when half the population in the country does not have adequate food to satisfy their hunger? No body is denying the fact that food industry is invariably water guzzlers because huge quantity of water is absolutely necessary to maintain safety and quality of the end products. But locating them in proximity to irrigated agricultural lands cannot be condoned. It is not understandable why these synthetic beverage manufacturers are forced to make nutritionally better products rather than easily salable junk foods like potato chips and sugar sweetened drinks. If this trend continues India may be following the foot steps of America where one in three citizens are obese with bloated bodies spending billions of dollars for treating their diseases!


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