February 15, 2020
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Ground (Water) Realities

The allegations levelled against our Plachimada plant are unfair, says Coca-Cola

Ground (Water) Realities
This refers to the article titled Don't Poison My Well (May 16). The article based itself around two flawed arguments and a great deal of selective reporting. Firstly, it takes a huge leap of logic to tie together the Plachimada area's water quality and quantity issues with the operation of a single Coca-Cola plant. It has been repeatedly established by the courts and by independent scientific studies that there is no link between the plant and these issues. A powerful fact which was ignored in the report.

Secondly, the results reported by the magazine of water samples from T. Mayilamma's well in Vijaynagar Colony are incorrect.

Parameters R-FRAC* Sargam Metals Permissible Limits
TDS (mg/l) 1,754 9,624 2,000
Sulphate (mg/l) 4.6 22 400
Manganese (mg/l) 0.135 6.18 0.30
pH 6.89  3.53 6.5-8.5
(*R-FRAC is a reputed, independent, National Accreditation Board of Laboratories and iso-17025 certified laboratory supported by Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Government of Karnataka and the FICCI/CIFTI)

Groundwater Quality: pH value, a standard measure of the alkalinity or acidity of any fluid, is a key indicator of groundwater quality. Water's normal pH value is 6.5-8.5. Outlook, based on a lab test, reported that the water had a pH of 3.53, and was therefore 'acidic'. In all the tests conducted by different government agencies, including the Kerala State Groundwater Department (KSGD) and Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA), the pH value of groundwater in the area has been found to be within the 6.5-8.5 range. This value is not 'acidic'. Indeed, tests carried out on samples from the same well by Bangalore-based Region Food Research and Analytical Centre (R-FRAC) indicated a pH of 6.89. Simply put, the water in the tested well is not as 'acidic' as reported.

Total dissolved solids (TDS), another indicator of groundwater quality, is the quantity of dissolved solids (minerals) in the water. The magazine report indicated a TDS of 9,624 mg/l. Such a high figure has never been obtained in any test, including tests conducted by KSGD and CGWA (All reports mentioned here are available at www.coca-colaindia.com). Tests carried out by different agencies on the wells in the area surrounding our plant confirmed a TDS within permissible limits (2,000 mg/l) in most cases. In fact, the results of an analysis conducted by R-FRAC for Mayilamma's well shows a TDS of 1,754.

The table shows a comparison of the tests carried out by Sargam Metals, commissioned by Outlook, and R-FRAC. The sample analysed by R-FRAC was collected on May 10, 2005, from the same well. The R-FRAC results show a trend similar to that obtained by several government agencies over the past few years. Sargam Metals' results are anomalous to the history of all tests carried out so far.

The Coca-Cola bottling plant and Mayilamma's well are situated in two different 'watersheds', geographical areas defined by local topography that characterise the natural flow of water in any area. A study from the Survey of India topo-sheet (1956) clearly establishes that these are two distinct 'watersheds' and that they are separated by a 'ridge'. In October 2002, Dr R.N. Athavale, Scientist Emeritus, National Geophysical Research Institute, (CSIR), Hyderabad, also established this fact.

It is extremely improbable for groundwater from the two watersheds to intermingle, and for the plant's treated water to reach the well in Vijaynagar Colony.

Groundwater Availability: The Kerala High Court order allowed the plant to draw up to 5 lakh litres of groundwater per day. The court's decision is based on a year-long scientific study by an 11-member expert committee which confirmed that under normal rainfall conditions, the plant could draw up to 5 lakh litres per day without adversely impacting local water availability or quality. The study also confirmed that the overall water scarcity in the region was due to poor monsoon in the last few years and not related to Coca-Cola's operations.

Coca-Cola's water management initiatives:We have been actively pursuing rainwater-harvesting in Plachimada and have set up rooftop and surface rainwater harvesting structures within the plant premises spread over 34 acres.In addition, the company has set up six rainwater harvesting projects in neighbouring areas over nearly 40 acres of farmland and school premises. The harvesting potential created exceeds 5 lakh litres/day, which is more than an average daily plant usage.

In fact, the company undertakes similar activities at its plants across India. Based on 2004 data, the company has created an annual groundwater recharge potential equivalent to 77 per cent of its consumption. The target is to achieve 100 per cent by 2006. Additionally, all surplus water left over from the manufacturing process is treated and used for on-land application within 24-48 hours of its extraction.

All Coca-Cola plants in India adhere to the stringent effluent treatment norms that each of the Coca-Cola Company's plants meets across the globe. They also comply with all requirements of local pollution control boards, ensuring that the treated water does not deteriorate local ecology and groundwater. The Plachimada plant, like all our plants in India, is ISO-14001 certified.

Based on the above facts, Outlook readers should get the correct perspective about the water quality in Vijaynagar Colony and that Coca-Cola is in no way deteriorating the groundwater quality in Plachimada.

Coca Cola India invites any reader to visit the Plachimada plant to experience the world-class practices implemented and to understand the realities regarding groundwater. We can be contacted at newsdesk@apac.ko.com.

(The author, a PhD from IIT Kanpur, is Head, Hydrogeology, Coca-Cola India.)
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