They have been waging a battle against one of the world’s largest corporate forces for over a decade, and despite victory being still far, their spirit is yet to ebb.
Nandlal, coordinator of the anti-Coca Cola movement at Mehdiganj, Varanasi, and Amit Srivastava, director of Global Resistance which takes struggles like that of Nandlal onto a global platform, were in the State capital to meet R. Ajayan, general convener of the Plachimada agitation against Coke, one of the rare such battles that have tasted at least some success.
In conversation with The Hindu on Thursday, both Nandlal and Srivastava said the success that the Plachimada struggle met when it got the Coca Cola bottling plant in the village to pull its shutters down in 2004 was a major source of inspiration for similar anti-Coke campaigns not just across the country, but across the globe as well. In fact, Srivastava, who campaigns in universities against the beverages major, has managed to get 40 universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany to take action — either a complete ban or a restriction in sale quantities — against Coke and Pepsi, most of them with help from citations of the Plachimada experience.
For Nandlal, who along with around 7,000 people, mostly women, from his village are trying to block the government there from issuing Coke fresh licences to draw groundwater and to cancel existing licences, the Plachimada struggle has been an eye-opener in many ways.
“We have managed to gain some edge in the legal battles we are fighting with them on the land issue. Now, inspired by Plachimada, we are planning to take water issue as well to court,” he said, pointing out that one major hindrance was the limitations of the panchayat there.
“Here, the Plachimada panchayat could adopt a resolution and get the government also to support it. There, it is all with the Industries Department and the Groundwater Department. But we hope we can convince the State government to interfere,” he said, adding that political parties including the BJP and BSP had now started supporting them, which was a major boost to the Mehdiganj campaign.
The duo had recently visited Kala Dera in Rajasthan, where a similar anti-Coca Cola campaign has been on since 2000. “It is atrocious and the situation is really bad. The groundwater, studies have indicated, might be exhausted in another four years. But Coke is still going ahead with its plans there. We hope that the Centre takes a decision soon on the Plachimada Tribunal and on the compensation so that it can serve as a model for the rest of the world and inspire all other such campaigns,” said Srivastava. Srivastava also felt that the Centre should interfere in other ways to prevent public health disasters that are caused by consumption of such beverages.
Major cities including New York have imposed restrictions on these beverages because they have realised the ill-effects on children.
Apart from them, junk food companies too should not be given a free reign, failing which we will be looking at a major public health crisis, he said.
With the network between anti-Coke campaigners across the country, where the firm has about 40 bottling plants, getting stronger, the duo asserts that success is not far away.