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India: Coca-Cola to be evicted from illegally occupied land

Government Finds Coca-Cola Guilty of “Land Grab”

January 22, 2014

New Delhi, India: Local authorities in Varanasi in India are preparing to evict Coca-Cola from land that the company is occupying illegally at its bottling plant in Mehdiganj.

The action to evict Coca-Cola comes as the result of an order (in Hindi) that was passed by the Tehsildar, the local revenue officer, on December 16, 2013 after an investigation conducted by the authorities at the insistence of local villagers.

The Tehsildar also allowed for a police force to accompany the local authorities to evict Coca-Cola.

The land occupied illegally by Coca-Cola – approximately 2,500 square meters within the premises of its bottling plant – is community owned land and meant for common use by the community.

The use of such land – known as Gram Sabha or Gram Panchayat land – by private parties is prohibited by law.

The eviction of Coca-Cola from the illegally occupied land would also mean that any structures built by Coca-Cola on the illegally occupied land would have to be demolished.

Coca-Cola has proposed to expand its production at its bottling plant in Mehdiganj five-fold, a move strongly opposed by the local communities because of the declining groundwater conditions in the area.

A British company, Mott MacDonald, claims to have finished construction of the expanded facility and some of the new construction is evidently on the illegally occupied land. Coca-Cola has not been able to begin operations in the expanded facility because it does not have all the required permits – primarily due to the objections raised by the community.

“We are looking forward to reclaiming the community-owned land that belongs rightfully to the people. We will not rest until Coca-Cola is evicted,” said Nandlal Master of Lok Samiti, the local community group that has been at the forefront of the campaign.

The Supreme Court of India has also raised serious concerns regarding illegal land grabs of community held land by private parties. In a ruling dated January 28, 2011, the Supreme Court made it clear that any structures built on illegal land would have to be demolished, and also directed all “State Governments in the country that they should prepare schemes for eviction of illegal/unauthorized occupants of Gram Sabha/Gram Panchayat/Poramboke/Shamlat land and these must be restored to the Gram Sabha/Gram Panchayat for the common use of villagers of the village.

The campaign has written to the state government authorities to take prompt action based on the Supreme Court directive.

In November 2013, Oxfam, one of UK’s largest charity organizations announced that Coca-Cola had committed to “zero tolerance” for land grabs in its supply chain.

“Coca-Cola’s land grab in India, as confirmed by government authorities, makes a mockery of their so called “zero tolerance” commitment towards land grabs. If Coca-Cola is serious, they should immediately return the community-owned land to the village council, as demanded by the government authorities,” said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning group.

ENDS

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