Water, or other drinks
The Rajasthan Government appears to be imitating the former French Queen, Mary Antoinette. Just like the Queen who advised hungry Parisians to eat cake when there was no bread, the government too appears to be asking thirsty villagers to drink Cola and beer instead of water.
This fantastic scenario may soon become a reality in Kala Dera village near Jaipur where the Government has allowed multinational giant Coca Cola to set up a bottling plant of its popular soft drink brands.
Courtesy the water-guzzling plant, wells and ponds in an area exceeding 10 square kilometres have dried up. "Water levels have fallen by more than 150 feet in the area since the bottling plant came up. Apart from depriving us of drinking water, the declining levels have ruined the agriculture-based economy of the area," according to villagers of Kala Dera, nearly 30 km from Jaipur.
Apart from the economy, everyday life has also become a casualty. "Four years ago, water could be found at a depth of less than 50 feet in the area. Bottling of the soft drink started here in 1999 and since then the level has dropped below 200 feet, where it is impossible to dig because of the rocky terrain," Hari Ram, 32, whose two wells have dried up said. The villagers have also sent a memorandum to the Chief Minister, asking the Government to shift the plant from the area. Several wells dug up in the plant are the cause of their misery, according to the Shyam Lal Kumawat, 48, whose five-acre field abuts the plant. Millions of litre of groundwater is drawn from these wells at the cost of the local people, he said.
The fizz-drink giant, who is, ironically, funding water conservation projects in the Thar, denied this.
Official sources of Coca Cola argued that the decline in water levels was not because of their bottling plant. "The plant was set up after we were allotted a fixed quota of water by the State Government. We are not using even 20 per cent of that quota," official sources said. "Water levels all over Rajasthan are going down because of excess withdrawal and scanty rainfall. Kala Dera is no exception," the sources argued.
The government, however, said it was a mistake to allow a water-intensive plant in the area. "We have to reconsider our policies to find a way to sort out the problem," a high level official of the industries department said on conditions of anonymity.
But the misery of the villagers in unlikely to end. The government has now sanctioned a beer brewery in the area. Perhaps the Government wants people to forget water and move on to finer drinks.
- Sandipan Sharma