COKE siphons groundwater while GoI may declare drought
The Government of Uttar Pradesh has been considering declaring drought in some parts of Varanasi. As a safeguard to protect declining groundwater levels, the government might even ask farmers to stop pumping water from their wells. Yet the Coca Cola bottling plant in Raja Talab, Mehndiganj village of Varanasi, has not been restricted from drawing lakhs of litres of water every day!
“Water levels in 9 out of 13 stations in Varanasi district have fallen below drought conditions” said a report from the Hydrology department of Government of India, released on 15 September 2007, in response to an application filed under the Right to Information Act by Nandlal Master, the leader of the Lok Samiti in Mehndiganj.
A recently released report from a regional hydrologist shows that the water-level conditions have actually gone worse. In 2006, 5 stations in Varanasi were reported to have drought or drought like conditions based on the water table. This year, 9 stations have reported such conditions in Varanasi.
“While local farmers are finding it difficult to access water with many hand-pumps running dry, and the government considering whether it should 'declare' the area as drought-striken (which might provide for some relief programmes), the Coca Cola plant at Rajatalab in Mehndiganj continues to pump hundreds of thousands of litres of water everyday. Their deep boring infrastructure and the drive for profit-making remains unaffected by the conditions of their neighbours” remarks Nandlal.
At the same time, the government feels that they need to act - and act by declaring that water from deeper levels cannot be pumped out for irrigation.
“Ironically UP Government is considering banning farmers from taking out water for irrigation but not stopping Coca Cola from taking out huge amounts of water for commercial purposes. It is also the question of who has the right to water – is it the local communities or private corporations?” asks a Varanasi-based social activist Vallabhacharya Pandey who represents Asha-Parivar.
Equity and rights, cultural and ethical issues are essential to be addressed when dealing with limited water resources. “Imbalances between availability and demand, the degradation of groundwater and surface water quality, inter-sectoral competition, interregional and international disputes, all centre around the question of how to cope with scarce water resources” commented Nandlal.
It is yet to be seen whether Government will also consider stopping Coca Cola bottling plant from taking out groundwater for commercial purposes apart from Government’s present move to consider stopping farmers from using groundwater for irrigation in these areas reporting water scarcity at alarming levels.
As natural rights, water rights are usufructuary rights (water can be used but not owned). People have a right to life and the resources that sustain it, such as water. The necessity of water to life is why, under customary laws, the right to water has been accepted as a natural, social fact.
That is why governments and corporations cannot alienate people of their water rights. Water rights come from nature and creation. They flow from the laws of nature, not from the rules of the market.