Coca-Cola’s inimical business practices in India’s heartlands

13 August 2016
Indian village women from Banaras in northern Uttar Pradesh state shout slogans as they demand the closure of Coca-Cola factories due to fears over groundwater poisoning during a protest in New Delhi.

On 19 October last year, a joint inspection team of officers from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) submitted a report to the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The 13-page report stated that a plant operated by the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB)—a bottling partner of the Coca-Cola company in India—in Hapur district in Uttar Pradesh was discharging untreated effluents into a nearby man-made pond. It observed that the effluent treatment plant in the fruit-juice section of the facility was in a “defunct state” and that the sewage treatment machines were “non-operational.”

Consequently, the report stated, the quality of the water in the pond had taken a toll. When the joint inspection team tested the effluents to ascertain whether they met the standards set for treated discharge, the results were appalling. In the chemical oxygen demand and biological oxygen demand test—used to assess the concentration of organics in discharge—the pond water showed levels of 404 milligrams per litre and 228 milligrams per litre. The accepted standard is 250 and 30 milligrams per litre respectively. The report went on to note that the company’s failure to treat discharged effluents and the poorly maintained drainage infrastructure meant that nearby agricultural fields were being flooded with water high in industrial waste content, rendering them infertile.

The matter was first brought to the notice of the NGT by Sanjay Kumar, a lawyer, in July 2015. Kumar was concerned by the illegal discharge of untreated effluents in the pond situated behind the HCCB factory at Hapur. After hearing Kumar’s plea, the NGT directed the UPPCB and CPCB to carry out an inspection of the factory premises. On being presented with the report, the tribunal stated that “alarming facts as regards the situation” in the factory had been disclosed in it, and sought the company’s reply.

Although the matter is still being heard by the NGT, the plant has been non-operational since 30 July 2016. On 11 August, the Economic Times reported that the UPPCB halted the facility’s operations because it had failed to meet “certain mandatory environmental requirements.”

On 1 August 2016, I reached out to Coca-Cola India regarding the company’s history of malpractices. Kamlesh Kumar Sharma, the director of public affairs and communication for Coca-Cola India claimed that since the commencement of operations of the Hapur plant, all treated effluents were in conformity with the prescribed standards.

Kaushal Shroff is a staff writer at The Caravan.

Keywords: pollution water management environmental damage National Green Tribunal Coke coca