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Villagers End Hunger Strike Against Coca-Cola

Villagers End Hunger Strike Against Coca-Cola

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San Francisco (July 3, 2006): Community leaders from Mehdiganj in north India ended their hunger strike on July 1 against the Coca-Cola company after receiving assurances from government officials that action will be taken. The community has also ended the vigil being observed outside Coca-Cola's bottling plant in Mehdiganj since March 23, 2006.

Close to 1,000 people, from about 40 surrounding villages, attended activities in Mehdiganj on July 1 to express support for the hunger strikers and the campaign against Coca-Cola. The villagers also initiated the construction of a pond in the village to stress the importance of water conservation and public ownership of water. The pond will initially be filled with rainwater and water from the river Ganges, and will be recharged from the groundwater resource.

The Central Pollution Control Board of India (CPCB), the primary regulatory agency on pollution, has agreed to immediately set up an inquiry regarding pollution by the Coca-Cola company in Mehdiganj. In communication with the India Resource Center, Mr. P.M. Ansari, Additional Secretary of the CPCB, agreed to instruct one of its regional bodies, the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board, to conduct an assessment of the pollution by the Coca-Cola company in Mehdiganj and "take appropriate action."

Mr. Ansari also offered to meet directly with community representatives from Mehdiganj, and said that he will "add his own staff to assess the situation in Mehdiganj."

A study by the CPCB of Coca-Cola's sludge in November 2003 found extremely high levels of lead, cadmium and chromium in Coca-Cola's solid and water waste, high enough that it was considered hazardous industrial waste. Prior to the CPCB study, the Coca-Cola company was discharging its waste without taking the necessary actions as required under the laws governing the disposal of hazardous waste in India.

Community leaders have accused the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Mehdiganj of creating severe water shortages affecting over twenty villages, polluting agricultural land and groundwater, illegally occupying land, evading taxes and treating workers unfairly.

The Central Pollution Control Board has also instructed the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board to send a report on actions taken with regard to "Groundwater Contamination and Excessive Extraction of Groundwater by M/s Coca-Cola Plant at Mehdiganj."

"We expect some concrete actions from the state government to challenge the Coca-Cola company's pollution within a month. If not, we will resume our protests," said Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti, who was also on an indefinite hunger strike.

The Coca-Cola company is facing a major crisis in India, with communities across India targeting the company for causing water shortages and pollution. One of Coca-Cola's largest bottling plants in India, in Plachimada in south India, has been shut down since March 2004 because of community pressure.

"It is time for the government to do what it is supposed to do - protect the public interest," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization. "We welcome the statements from the Central Pollution Control Board, and now we expect prompt action."

For more information on the campaign against Coca-Cola in Mehdiganj, visit http://www.indiaresource.org/news/2006/1070.html

For information on the campaigns against Coca-Cola in India, visit http://www.IndiaResource.org/

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