Looks like South India is up in arms against manufacturing giants as the ecological balance of the region is going for a toss. After the whole issue over Hindustan Unilever having ruined Kodaikanal with mercury poisoning and affecting the lives of thousands of residents and workers thanks to bad sanitization and no safety measures. The residents of Tirunelveli, another district in Southern India are now up in arms against an upcoming Pepsi factory in the area. They have appealed to local bodies and NGOs and a total of 20 organisations have so far stood up in support of the residents, against the giant setting up a plant in the area.
But why are they protesting? The bone of contention is the Thamirabarani river. Thamirabarani river is the only source of water for the entire area and the people’s livelihoods depend on the river. Also, most of the people in the region rely on agriculture and the water for irrigation as well as other needs comes from the same river. Having a plant in the area will mean majority of the water from the river is diverted to the plant, diminishing the amount available for the local audiences and for the small scale industries/agriculture prevalent in that region. And water issues are not new in the region. The farmers, unless blessed by an extremely good monsoon, face water shortage even on normal occasions.
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The new plant to be set up by Pepsi will utilise 15 lakh litres of water daily and will be a 5,495 sq m (60225 sq ft) building on a 36-acre plot. Coca-cola has already set up a plant in the region and utilises the resources. Even the setting up of the Coke plant was not very easy and they had to face stiff competition from locals and NGOs. However, government approval and timely clearances made the efforts of the locals in vain and led to the setting up of the plant. However, with Pepsi looking at competing with Coke in the region, things have led to the locals getting more irked. Now, it is not just the new plant but even the old Coke plant which they wish to shut down.
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Talking of their fight which has been ongoing since a decade, CPI leader R Nallakannu informed the Indian Express saying, “If such a large volume of river water is given to them, it would have an adverse impact on the people here. Opposing it, we will stage demonstration in Tirunelveli on November 30. If the administration did not cancel the licenses, protests would spread across these districts. Except in the case of a good monsoon, the farmers here are always facing serious water shortage. Giving the river water daily would affect agriculture and the livelihood of hundreds of farmers”
[Read More: Stop using Hindustan Unilever products are what the poor Kodaikanal workers are now demanding. Will you agree?]
Another issue the locals have with the plant is that the giant will not be employing the locals. The water is gotten by them at extremely cheap rates and the end product that is cola is sold at very high prices. With the pollution entering the picture and resources being exploited, the people are left with no choice as they are not even employed by the factory and cannot sustain themselves. However, the senior government officials assured that all aspects have been looked into and the taking of additional 15 lakh litres of water daily will not affect the area. The battle continues and we wonder if Pepsi is set to be the new HUL?