TIRUNELVELI: The opposition to the proposed bottling plant of MNC cola giant Pepsi is gaining fizz at Gangaikondan in Tirunelveli, with political parties, farmers and environment activists joining hands to protest against setting up the water-intensive unit in a district which has only the Thamirabarani river to meet all its water needs.
So far, 20 organisations, including DMDK, MDMK, CPI and CPM, VCK, TMC and MMK have come together against the bottling plant, who handed over a petition to the District Revenue Officer on Monday.
The bottling plant is set up by a company named Prathishta Business Solutions, which applied building approval from Gangaikondan panchayat. Sources said the approval came through on March 10 for constructing a 5,495 sq m (60225 sq ft) building on a 36-acre plot bearing the survey numbers 1641, 1903 and 1904 inside Gangaikondan SIPCOT. Now the civil work is almost over. Once operational, the plant would require about 15 lakh litres of water every day, which should come from the Thamirabarani river, the lifeline of south Tamil Nadu that quenches the thirst and irrigates farmlands. Originating from Western Ghats above Papanasam in Tirunelveli district, the river runs for 120 km through Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi. Thamirabarani meets the irrigation needs of Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi, besides supplying drinking water to these districts besides Virudhunagar.
Pepsi is not the only cola major that has operations at the SIPCOT industrial estate Â- its arch rival Coca Cola had set up a plant here a decade ago, despite facing stiff resistance from the parties and public. Those agitations are set to return to haunt Coke as well, with the protestors deciding to hyphenate the two MNC giants by forming the Anti Pepsi-Coke Movement (Pepsi -Coke Ethirppu Kuzhu).
Recalling those protests, veteran CPI leader R Nallakannu told Express that his party and the movement would stage unrelenting agitations against the cola companies, as this is a question of a major river that is important for thousands of people for meeting their water needs.
“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,” said the coordinator of Pepsi-Coke Ethirppu Kuzhu, KG Baskaran, also the Tirunelveli district secretary of the CPM.
According to P Velumayil, the district secretary of Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, over 86 thousand acre paddy crops in these areas are irrigated by water from Thamirabarani.
“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,” he said.
Water from Thamirabarani is being pumped from Seevelaperi area to the SIPCOT area for industrial needs. “The other companies are into manufacture and give employment to many, none of them are selling the water. But the companies like these are coming here for the river water and not providing employment to local people,” said CPI district secretary Kasivisvanathan.
Agreed SDPI state general secretary I Usman Khan: “These multinational companies are collecting water at a very cheap rate from here to manufacture cool drinks, which are sold at a high price.” The river, he added, is already affected by illegal sand mining.
When contacted, a senior government officer denied these charges, maintaining that the plant was given a go ahead only after looking into all aspects. “The PWD, along with other departments including TWAD and revenue department had given technical opinion that taking 3 million gallon water from Thamirabarani to Gangaikondan SIPCOT would not affect agriculture and drinking water needs.
“But now only 0.5 million gallon water is being drawn from the river to the SIPOCT. Also, only one lakh litres of water is being given to the plant now,” the official told Express. The protests would only cause hurdles for economic and industrial development of the district, which would affect employment opportunities, he added.