Drought-hit Kerala forces US Pepsi to stop production

With Kerala in the grip of a severe drought, the government has ordered US-based PepsiCo to cease operations at its bottling plant at Puthussery in Palakkad district of the state. Apart from it, the traders of the state have also planned to stop the sale of Pepsi and Coca Cola.

Though, the PepsiCo staff denied entry to a team led by Professor PS Panikkar, an eminent social activist, who tried to enter the bottling plant of the soft drink major to ascertain whether the company was abiding by the state government orders or not. Panikkar is a member of the Kanjikode Paristithy Kaval Sangham, a government-appointed watchdog group, said India Resource Center in its official statement.

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, the release maintained.

PepsiCo has been the target of a sustained campaign led by local communities, civil society organisations and political parties as the company has been extracting over 6,00,000 litres of groundwater every day – even as 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.

"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 in it under the State Disaster Management Act," Kerala's Water Resources Minister Mathew T Thomas told the assembly.

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 per cent until May 2017and also noted that legal action will be taken "against the companies that disobey the order, the release said.

As a result of the government order, PepsiCo was forced to reduce its water usage from 6,00,000 litres per day to 1,50,000 litres of water per day, the released said.

"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.

"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.
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