IIT-BHU students protest against Coca Cola

Dr Sandeep Pandey, CNS Columnist
On 17th February, 2014, some 300 students of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) took out a march through the campus against the multinational giants Pepsi and Coca Cola on Banares Hindu University (BHU) campus in Varanasi. There is a plant of Coca Cola in Mehdiganj, Rajatalab on the Varanasi-Allahabad highway about 20 km outside Varanasi where a farmers' movement has been going on against Coke for the last decade. In 2003 and 2004 there were big protests outside the plant on which lathi charges were ordered and hundreds of farmers went to jail. The march by IIT students was in support of the farmers.

Because of Coca Cola there has been serious depletion of water table. The UP Chief Secretary has ordered a ban on installation of any new hand pump or tube well in the Araji Line Block in which the Coca Cola plant is situated. On the other hand Coca Cola has applied for a No-objection from UP government on a proposed increase of five times in the plant capacity. The UP Pollution Control Board has given the approval but approval from Central Ground Water Authority is awaited. Now commercial ground water exploitation is permitted only when an equal amount of water is recharged through rain water harvesting. Some of the Coca Cola's rain water harvesting structures are about 20 km from the plant site. For example there are two structures on BHU campus. Now how does rain water harvesting in BHU help the ground water situation in Mehdiganj or Araji Line Block? Moreover, the structures created by Coca Cola are mostly non-functional because after the initial installation they never bothered to repair the damage to the structures.

The Coca Cola plants produce sludge which is known to contain two carcinogens Cadmium and Chromium and Lead which hampers mental development of children. We don't know how does Coca Cola safely dispose its sludge.

The Coca Cola plant in Mehdiganj is encroaching upon Gram Sabha land. There have been several orders from various administrative officials to remove this encroachment but none has shown the courage to implement this order. Coca Cola has bribed all local Gram Pradhans to prevent them from passing any Panchayat resolutions against it. It similarly bribes the police, officials and media. Some media don't report about protests against Coca Cola.

There is no doubt that these multinational corporation indulges in unethical practices. Most students of IIT-BHU who joined the protest have vowed not to accept the drink and have resolved to make their campus Coke-Pepsi free campus. The soft drinks are banned on campus but these companies have been sponsoring events on campus. Henceforth, the students have decided, no sponsorship will be taken from these companies which have become a threat for the farmers. This is rare show of solidarity with the farmers by students of a higher technological institution.

The students on a number of US and Canadian University campuses have imposed a ban on Coke and Pepsi on their campus not because these companies do anything bad in North America but because they steal the water of Indian farmers and treat their workers shabbily.

Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee and CNS Columnist
February 2014 

(The author is a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and a senior social activist. He is the Vice President of Socialist Party (India) and member, National Presidium, Lok Rajniti Manch. He has led National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and is a former faculty of IIT Kanpur. Presently he is a faculty at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) BHU. He did his PhD from University of California, Berkeley and is a visiting faculty for a number of US Universities and IITs in India. Email: ashaashram@yahoo.com)