A Report by ‘Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology’ for National Commission for Women, January, 2005, Page 79-80.
In the state capital Chennai, water is scarce. Residents in many areas of the city keep vigil through the night, waiting for the water to arrive. When it does, quarrels break out to fill up the limited number of pots that each family can take. The sprawling red hills lake, and the Poondi reservoir, which feed the city, look like ponds now. (Subramanian 2004)
On February 22, 2004, the Central Interministrial team deputed to assess the drought in Tamil Nadu faced women carrying empty pots at several places in Namakkal district. “Give us at least one pot of water a day” the women told the team. In Pudukottai district, the team was shown huge tank at Eganivayal village, which had gone dry (Subramanian 2004)
Mention Chennai and the first thing people want to know about is the availability of water. This summer the scarcity was worst for the 55 lakh people in Chennai, not to speak of several lakh living in its suburbs. Due to poor rain, in 2003, the deficit is 54 percent in the city’s reservoirs. Tamil Nadu government pinned its hope on the Telugu Ganga Project to combat the water problem in Chennai.
Residents of apartments complex who depends on water supplied by private tankers are worried a lot. Not only has the cost of this water escalated, but also there are no means of checking the quality of the product on which they spend a good amount. The average costs of private tanker of water are Rs. 450 (4000 litres), Rs. 650 (8000 litres) and Rs. 800 (12000 litres). The reasons why many residents opt for private water tanker supply in that their bore wells have gone dry or the water has become extremely brackish (Achutan 2004)
In a seminar held on 17th and 18th September 2004, Mr. Pradeep Kumar who is an advocate and the activist of Communist Party of India (Marxist) talked about the prevailing water crisis in Tamil Nadu.
Mr Pradeep Kumar mentioned that Mr Chidambaram is M.P from our area. It is a drought prone area. Vaigai river is known as the holy river. Technically it is divided into three parts : first Reach , Second Reach, Third Reach. Second reach is lying in the SivGanga district. Because it is drought prone area.
There are many water distributing scheme to distribute of schemes, supplying water to hundreds of villages, apart from supplying water to Siv-Ganga city.
Padamathur village 12 km from SivGanga is located near the bank of Vaigai river. One Sakhthi Sugar factory is operating here since 1989. The factory is owned by Mr Mahalingam who is associated with R.S.S., claims to be a Gandhian and a close friend of P. Chidambram. The Sugar Factory is an agreement with the state government to draw 30 lakh litres of water per day. Need of the factory is only 7to10 lakh litre per day. By new technologies only 3% of water is used and rest goes back into ground.
As the Sakhthi Sugar can not use its entire quota, the company made an agreement with Coca-Cola.
We considered this as a symbol of Liberalisation and Globalisation. This is a typical act of looting water. Our District Committee took the decision how to challenge the nefarious activities of Coca-Cola.
We chalked out two level strategy:-
I) First to bring together all the members of similar ideology.
II) Organise the necessity of local NGOs, Self help group (SHG) face-to-face discussion to create Mass Awareness. A special focus was concentrated in mobilizing the peasants and women dwellers around the plant.
In February 2003, we conducted “Padyatras” covering 300 villages. On March 8, 2003 Women’s Day, our Women Group distributed pamplets, exposing the threats by Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
In the first week of April 2003, we organised street play on 16th April 2003, Coca-Cola made trial run. This has caused one incidence. The polluted water got mixed with the local ponds, 40 sheep and two cows died instantly. This matter was also raised in the assembly, where Minister of Industries accepted that no permissions have been granted however he kept silent over the possibility of issuing permission.
Both arrived at an agreement that bottling plant will be setup in the Sugar factory premises and the bottling to be carried out by Sakhthi Sugar and Coca-Cola would be the co-packer. Initially the company had designed to bottling of 800 bottles per minute. For this purpose, the company purchased the land on the bank of river and proposed to dig a borewell to the depth of 2000 feet. One Enquiry Committee was constituted. The concerned engineer tested the water from a borewell at 35 km away from the factory instead of selecting a borewell in the vicinity of Coca-Cola factory. We gheraeod the office of the engineer, and burnt the copy of the report.
A tripartite meeting was called by the Government. We boycotted the meeting and warned District Administration to call another meeting. In that meeting District Administration said while we have granted permission to draw 30 lakh litres, what is wrong if we allow 25 lakh litres to Coca-Cola plant? This analogy is wrong. The logic applicable to sugar factory is not applicable to Coca-Cola plant.
We collected buffalo. We called them as George Bush. Some of our friends tried to put Coca-Cola in the mouth of the buffalo, which they refused to drink. This shows that Coca-Cola is so hazardous that even animals like buffaloes find difficult to drink.
On 28th April 2003 we wanted to conduct the rally and tried to seek the permission of the District Administration. The administration kept on postponing the permission and in the last they refused to grant the permission to take out the rally. However, we took out the rally. Out of 8000 demonstrators, 6000 were women. Police made big bandobust. Police filed criminal cases against 1000 people.
Three attempts were made to inaugrate the factory but the demonstrators forced them to cancel. There is a basic difference between Plachimada & SivGanga. In Plachimada the factory was working, ours was a pre-emptive attempt. But still factory machines are lying there, they are very powerful people. There are two main reasons for our success. First is our independent activity, second is our Joint Action Committee. Some people have advised us to file a case in Tamil-Naidu High Court, but we believe in the strength of the people.