Water Restrictions Force Pepsi to Cease Production
PepsiCo has been forced to cease operations at its bottling plant in Kanjikode, in the south Indian state of Kerala because of water shortages
A team led by Professor P. S. Panikkar, an eminent social activist and member of the Kanjikode Paristithy Kaval Sangham, a government appointed watchdog group, tried to enter the PepsiCo factory premises in Kanjikode on the 8th of March to ascertain if PepsiCo was abiding by the state government orders to reduce water extraction but the team was denied entry by the staff and security.
However, speaking with people in and around the bottling plant, it was confirmed that PepsiCo had ceased production since February 4, 2017 and the plant was operating in “maintenance” mode.
PepsiCo has been the target of a sustained campaign led by local communities, civil society organizations and political parties because the company has been extracting over 600,000 liters of groundwater every day – even as the state of Kerala faces a major drought – perhaps the worst in over a century, and people, farmers and livestock in the area are struggling to meet their basic water needs.
PepsiCo’s plant is located in a rain shadow area in the Palakkad gap of the Western ghats.
On January 30, 2017, the state government of Kerala issued strict measures to ease drought conditions in Palakkad district (where the PepsiCo plant is located), and ordered industries using water as a raw material to reduce water use by 75% until May 2017, and also noted that legal action will be taken “against the companies that disobey the order.”
As a result of the government order, PepsiCo was forced to reduce its water usage from 600,000 liters per day to 150,000 liters of water per day. The company claims to have abided by the order, and the company is also facing labor unrest because many workers have refused the short-term assignments as a result of reduced production.
Professor P. S. Panikkar has been petitioning various government agencies to reduce water allowances to industries using water as a raw material since 2014, and the government actions reducing water for such industries are largely the result of his efforts.
“The Kerala government should make PepsiCo’s shutdown of production permanent, and also cease water allowances to other industries such as breweries and distilleries in the area because such water guzzling companies cannot exist in water-scarce Palakkad in a sustainable manner”, said Prof. Panikkar. “The government should also take urgent steps for the eco-restoration of the area,” he continued.
PepsiCo is also facing trouble from other quarters for its exploitation of groundwater resources in Kanjikode.
The state of Kerala’s Minister for Water Resources, Mathew T. Thomas told the Kerala legislative assembly on Wednesday that, “The government will take stern measures to restrict usage of groundwater due to prevailing drought and if possible stop PepsiCo from drawing it at its plant at Puthussery in Palakkad by using the power vested with it under the State Disaster Management Act.”
The state’s largest retailer association, Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi (KVVES), also announced on Wednesday that it will ask its members not to sell Pepsi and Coca-Cola products in the state from March 15, 2017 because of the water problems created by these companies.
In addition, the Puthussery panchayat (village council), where the PepsiCo plant is located, has also passed a resolution in November 2016 (with full quorum) asking the company to stop groundwater extraction at least until May 2017 because the panchayat holds the company responsible for the water crisis in the area.
PepsiCo’s bottling plant in Palakkad district is located about 20 kilometers from the village of Plachimada, where a community-led movement led to the closure of a Coca-Cola bottling plant in 2004.
“It is unfortunate that these water guzzling companies still have not learned their lessons and continue to try to use groundwater for their harmful products even as people don’t have enough water for drinking and farming,” said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, who was also part of the team to visit the PepsiCo plant. “We welcome the actions of the Kerala government and the traders association, and the government must extend such restrictions to all industries that abuse water resources in times of drought.”