Paani- Coca Cola and Water tables in Rajasthan

I often wonder why the Indian press does not take up this issue – nor does the Indian government. The huge calamity looming over India right now, that will potentially make economic growth grind to a halt is not the US subprime crisis, but the shortage of ground water that is gradually eating away at agriculture. This is not about a bad monsoon or drought. It is about accelarating erosion of ground water levels in India. 60 % of Indian agriculture depends upon ground water. I remember as a kid in Delhi playing in the small vegetable patch kept by my grandfather in Nizamuddin. There was a hand pump that would bring water up at the first stroke – and then in a few years the hand pump went completely dry. As did the vegetable garden.
As part of the sustaining an ‘agriculture revotion’ in India, the ‘tube well’ as it came to be known was encouraged and promoted as the mantra for the agricultural revolution. It was successful at that time – but we are now getting to grips with the ecological consequences of that ground water becoming more and more scarce. It needs to be managed, and better ways must be found to replenish it through management techniques like water harvesting. With our glaciers retreating and rivers becoming more unreliable, its our only hope.
However it does not help that companies like Coca Cola are allowed to freely suck up ground water in areas that are already water stressed. First in Kerala – where the Coca Cola factory sucked up so much of the ground water that paddy fields in surrounding areas went dry ruining the farmers, and now the same in Rajasthan. It is not an equitable competition for a scarce resource between the farmers and Coca Cola, who has the capital to build deeper and more powerful bore wells. And get electricity (through the government as they are classed industrial or by their own generators) 24 hours a day – while the farmers are only able to operate their bore wells based on a very interrupted and non reliable power supply. Lets not blame Coca Cola – they are a multinational committed to a return on shareholders value. Lets blame ourselves and our government policies. Here is a link to PBS interview with farmers and Coca Cola – click on the streaming video link within the site.
Actually if we put an ‘environmental’ cost to a can of coke, or branded bottled water – both should cost at least 4 times what they are available at now. So we consumers also carry a large part of the blame for what has become an effective privatization of water resources in India. We consume carelessly….

…and the government must know that if the individual farmer is water starved, the social consequences are enormous. Communities and families break up as farms are unable to support them. Most then travel to the cities looking for jobs and feed into the burgeoning infrastructure of our cities. While the dried up rural areas are open to strife and social unrest. Agriculture is still the bedrock of the Indian social and economic fabric. And as being assumed in most ‘high’ places, privatizing the management and distribution of water will make it worse. For corporations have a prime responsibility to shareholders that have no investment in the water stressed areas,nor do they suffer the consequences of extreme water shortages. Water has traditionally been a free resource that belongs equally to all living beings on this earth, and the social consequence of putting a price on it will be the beginings of social unrest that we have not witnessed in this century. For the next resource will be air – how do u get people to pay for the air they breathe while industries pollute it for profit with no consequence to their shareholder ?

26 thoughts on “Paani- Coca Cola and Water tables in Rajasthan

  1. This is appalling. I wanted to say that we should prioritize our concerns, but it would not be correct. Because this does not seem to be an issue for concern to most people. So probably making them aware of the danger would be the first step.
    Thanks for sharing this, Shekhar.
    — Raj

  2. Save water; you will also save the energy required to pump it.
    “Say NO” to dangerous plastic bottles (read research and amount of disease from plastic water bottles)
    “Say NO” to artificial colas (anyway its only water with salt, pepper, haha)
    We all learn to “Say NO” for many things in life but when it concerns our own health and our own planet, why reluctancy, Think and ACT.
    Be Healthy and help SAVE the Planet
    “All we need to be is aware. And like people on diets, we all need to be on energy and water usage diets” I rememeber Shekhar Kapur said. Now is the time to “Say NO” plastic bottles, artificle colas, diet colas…
    Let us all care for our Earth
    “The world is being poisoned very slowly.
    The rivers are being polluted, the oceans are being polluted, the lakes are dying.
    Nature is being destroyed.
    We are exploiting the earth so much that sooner or later we will not be able to live on it.
    We are not behaving well with nature.
    Our whole approach is wrong, it is destructive.
    We only take from the earth, and we never give anything back.
    We only exploit nature.
    The ecology is broken, the circulation is broken;
    we are not living in a perfect circle, and nature is a perfect circle:
    if you take from one hand and you give from another, you don’t destroy it.
    But we are doing it: we only go on taking, and all the resources are being spent.”
    Water – A to Z of water saving tips :

  3. Friends let us help promote the cause and help save our planet.
    Friends of Live Earth – One world. One Climate. Be the change.
    I’m sending you this as part of my commitment to take action on the
    climate crisis.
    In the spirit of the ongoing Live Earth movement and in support of
    this year’s Live Earth India, people are spreading the word about ways
    to be part of the worldwide effort.
    Friends let us help promote the cause and help save our planet.
    Thank you so much.

  4. Dear Shekhar,
    Your time, efforts, care for the planet and life are highly appreciated.
    We feel priviledged to have known you and Thank You for making us part of the great causes of Life, our planet.
    Keep moving and Wish You VERY BEST

  5. i am extremely happy that you brought one of the most important unsolved problem for rural India,the right to have water.yes you are right that farmers and also rural citizens are migrating and many villages are emptied due to lack of availability of water not only ground water ,but also river water,disputes among sharing water for agriculture between states has been an everyday saga,whether its between A.P-Karnataka ot TamilNadu-Karnataka,fight for water is a new revolution that has no stopping in near future.though India is depended on ground water,we are drying up by sucking ,and also allowing Commercial companies to suck for themselves.Ex-President Dr.Abdul Kalam has given a solution to end the problem ,though it should be done in grandscale and time consuming,its the only solution.Mr.Kalam said that all the rivers should be connected ,so that even distribution and dependence on seasonal rains would be avoided and enough water could be channel to all agricultural lands and may take lots lots of money and 25-30 years of time ,but it will be helpful for centuries to come by.

  6. The problem somewhere is lack of awareness, the news channel will take crores of rupees for the advertisment for coca-cola, but not create the awareness it should. And keep flashing news which might not really affect the people. Personally I wud prefer a bottle of mineral water over any soft drink, but thats not the case with everyone. And I dont think anybody is aware of something like this.
    Why blame only the government, what about people like actors and sports stars and news chanel and newspapers etc who advertise as if it is like the coolest thing on this planet, even though it might lead your gr8 grand kids kill and fight for water.
    I just saw this movie a couple of day back, Kismat Konnection, its an average Hindi dramatic muscial movie, but I really liked Shahid Kapoor’s dialogues in the last scenes.
    Its basically about demolishing a community hall (which sheltered homeless people) and constructing a shopping mall. And Shahid Kapoor manages to convience them to build the shopping mall without demolishing the community hall, thanks to his lucky charm thats Vidya Balan.

  7. Hey I am looking forward for your movie Paani, I just hope it creates awareness amongs people, even more than you want it to be.
    Good Luck!!

  8. Unless there is a whip and a carrot, what is going to happen? Why not put in tax breaks/ penalties for industry to process/conserve water or scrub air past filters?

  9. Chaitali!
    glad you liked that film…
    one dialouge is the writers of Kismet Connection wrote is something like “Tez dimaag aurr phooti hui kismat” which the protagonist says and this suits well for what Mr.Kapur has written about farmers and cola company…both have tez dimaag and phooti hui kismat! what connection!

  10. Well, as someone rightly pointed out, people are not aware of such issues–the environmental and social cost of development–, and when aware they are not concerned, and when they are concerned, the concern ends with a mail or two, an online petition, or a catchy sound byte.
    I’m surprised to see that nobody on this thread has mentioned this epic struggle of people in plachimada village (of Palakkad district in kerala) where Coca Cola was sucking up their ground water dry. The court ruled in favour of the cola giant and the struggle is still going on…inspiring people to study the social and environmental costs of development…but then, for most of the people, development is all that they want, and don’t care about anything else as long as their (short-term) interests are not hurt.

  11. Paani.
    It was only a twelve inch square.A piece of a white muslin fabric,edges unevenly hemmed in a running stitch..Like a prayer flag it swayed gently in the breeze to dry.Dancing and drying, dancing and drying, watched very carefully by a pair of eyes.My Grandmother’s , Maaji ,we lovingly called her.
    She was ninety years of age .Every morning,crack of dawn would see her emerge from her river bath.Seeking cover behind boulders, she would unfold her white cotton saree and hurriedly drape it on her still wet body.In the palm of her hand would be the wet, white ball. The twelve inch square muslin fabric.
    Her back was bent slightly.Her face had many fine vertical and horizontal lines that would come into a graphic play each time she smiled her toothless smile..White, long sleeved blouse covered her sagging breasts.Silken, silver hair combed, twisted into a marble sized chignon, piled at the back of her head.The pallav of her saree then, neatly putting a veil over it.
    Slowly but steadily she would walk towards the clothesline. Supported between two Deodar trees on the banks of the Lidder river in Pahalgam.A gentle squeeze to the wet ball, a few shakes in the air and it was gently thrown over the line. Two wooden pegs ensured its safety.Corners were lovingly pulled together to stretch it ,ironing out any wrinkles.
    Once dried those loving hands would reach out and tenderly take it off the line , fold it into a smaller square .It would come back home with her to rest on her shelf, till her bath the next morning.
    It was only a twelve inch square.A piece of a white muslin fabric but it contained her daily worship of water.With it she covered her nudity,symbolic but it sensitized her soul. Water is a Devta , she would say. We must worship it. SHE DID..
    I see it hung on the clothesline.My turn to keep it going.My turn to see that the warp and the weft do not fall apart.If it does the threads will fall on the ground. The winds will blow them away, there will be no white muslin fabric and there will be no…………..

  12. Sir,
    With due respect to your observation, I want to add a different perspective…
    If cost is the concern then what we have to say about Bottled Mineral Water (HIMALAYAN/BISLERI/AQUAFINA) brand contested in courts?
    If water reserves is a concern, the best advantage out of bottled drinks including water is that they are substituting drinks in any case and the cost/profits of process is charged accordingly.
    I would rather advocate that an International Tender for Accessing and Public Distribution System of Potable/Drinking Water be issued for next 50/100 years and provisioned for in Development Plan.
    When we can have an Oil pipeline from Iran to India, a fibre optic cable network, undersea Bandwidth Cable why not for WATER.
    Vinod Agarwal – One point social agenda : Drinking water for Man kind( One Billion Plus Indians and the GUESTS we welcome.Attithi Devo Bhava).

  13. [From the book Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams.]
    There’s a story I heard when I was young that bothered me because I couldn’t understand it. It was many years before I discovered it to be the story of the Sybilline books. By that time all the details of the story had rewritten themselves in my mind, but the essentials were still the same. After a year of exploring some of the endangered environments of the world, I think I finally understand it.
    It concerns an ancient city – it doesn’t matter where it was or what it was called. It was a thriving, prosperous city set in the middle of a large plain. One summer, while people of the city were busy thriving and prospering away, a strange old beggar woman arrived at the gates carrying twelve large books, which she offered to sell to them. She said that the books contained all the knowledge and all the wisdom of the world, and that she would let the city have all twelve of them in return for a single sack of gold.
    The people of the city thought this was a very funny idea. They said she obviously had no conception of the value of gold and that probably the best thing was for her to go away again.
    This she agreed to do, but first she said that she was going to destroy half of the books in front of them. She built a small bonfire, burnt six of the books of all knowledge and all wisdom in the sight of the people of the city, and then went on her way.
    Winter came and went, a hard winter, but the city just managed to flourish through it and then, the following summer, the old woman was back.
    “Oh, you again,” said the people of the city. “How’s the knowledge and wisdom going?”
    “Six books,” she said, “just six left. Half of all the knowledge and wisdom in the world. Once again I am offering to sell them to you.”
    “Oh yes?” sniggered the people of the city.
    “Only the price has changed.”
    “Not surprised.”
    “Two sacks of gold.”
    “Two sacks of gold for the six remaining books of knowledge and wisdom. Take it or leave it.”
    “It seems to us,” said the people of the city, “that you can’t be very wise or knowledgeable yourself or you would realise that you can’t just go around quadrupling an already outrageous price in a buyer’s market. If that’s the sort of knowledge and wisdom you’re peddling, then, frankly, you can keep it at any price.”
    “Do you want them or not?”
    “Very well. I will trouble you for a little firewood.”
    She built another bonfire and burnt three of the remaining books in front of them and then set off back across the plain.
    That night one or two curious people from the city sneaked out and sifted through the embers to see if they could salvage the odd page or two, but the fire had burnt very thoroughly and the old woman had raked the ashes. There was nothing.
    Another hard winter took its toll on the city and they had a little trouble with famine and disease, but trade was good and they were in reasonably good shape again by the following summer when, once again, the old woman appeared.
    “You’re early this year,” they said to her.
    “Less to carry,” she explained, showing them the three books she was still carrying. “A quarter of all the knowledge and wisdom in the world. Do you want it?”
    “What’s the price?”
    “Four sacks of gold.”
    “You’re completely mad, old woman. Apart from anything else, our economy’s going through a bit of a sticky patch at the moment. Sacks of gold are completely out of the question.”
    “Firewood, please.”
    “Now wait a minute,” said the people of the city, “this isn’t doing anybody any good. We’ve been thinking about all this and we’ve put together a small committee to have a look at these books of yours. Let us evaluate them for a few months, see if they’re worth anything to us, and when you come back next year, perhaps we can put in some kind of a reasonable offer. We are not talking sacks of gold here, though.”
    The old woman shook her head. “No,” she said. “Bring me the firewood.”
    “It’ll cost you.”
    “No matter,” said the woman, with a shrug. “The books will burn quite well by themselves.”
    So saying, she set about shredding two of the books into pieces which then burnt easily. She set off swiftly across the plain and left the people of the city to face another year.
    She was back in the late spring.
    “Just one left,” she said, putting it down on the ground in front of her. “So I was able to bring my own firewood.”
    “How much?” said the people of the city.
    “Sixteen sacks of gold.”
    “We’d only budgeted for eight.”
    “Take it or leave it.”
    “Wait here.”
    The people of the city went off into a huddle and returned half an hour later.
    “Sixteen sacks is all we’ve got left,” they pleaded, “times are hard. You must leave us with something.”
    The old woman just hummed to herself as she started to pile the kindling together.
    “All right!” they cried at last, opened up the gates of the city, and let out two ox carts , each laden with eight sacks of gold. “But it had better be good.”
    “Thank you,” said the old woman, “it is. And you should have seen the rest of it.”
    She led the two ox carts away across the plain with her, and left the people of the city to survive as best they could with the one remaining twelfth of all the knowledge and wisdom that had been in the world.

  14. I guess it’s true at the end of the day globally it would help if we could all drink water in its purest form…cause it is the least harmful to the environment…it was interesting to read on the PBS linked article that apart from the fight for the water when Coca-Cola gets it they only use 1/3 to make the drink and the next 2/3 is for cleaning bottles etc. I think even if we can genuinely get companies to think sustainable and I think they are trying to more and more nowadays cause they realise it’s the only way for them to survive there would still be problems. Cause as a human race we dont choose to live sustainably…we are always looking to get lost in some maya…illusion and so now there is a even a big market for flavoured water…people realise its best to drink water but then a health market springs up again on that and…the cycle continues…and people feel they need to maximise profits set up businesses so they can get things to immerse their selves in maya!
    I have always been big into Coke/Pepsi and then the diet versions and I still look fwd to the fizzies although know not the best…when I was semi-raw as I am again now by the way until Christmas eve or so…it was the first time I appreciated just how much water a human being needs …just water…I knew it in my head before but experienced it without the maya, for real and in the person and it was something! So really it would be cool if all of us could just see that we need water to drink and could get it…
    I think the universe will continue to expand as it should though and whatever happens will…and the people at the time will adapt etc…so no need to worry needless for our greatgrandkids to be or not to be! Cause there are mutations and things and life in whatever form or fashion will go on…some race will live! 🙂 What we need to ask ourselves is how we feel now and is it the best to be drinking just Paani or other things and what makes us healthy and happy as a whole…and not just us but the great universe cause as humans and spirits we will not achieve complete true happiness unless we all are collectively happy…it is just in our nature in the end…it is why the very rich still sit with prickly consciences…but it will take us a while to understand it is what we really really want and for not just other humans to be as happy as us but for the plants, animals and the earth, wind and sky too! But as we get there people will continue to drink bottled water to feel we are getting ‘the best water’ for ourselves without carrying for the global impact it has on the ‘greater us’! I understand Nestle is a huge violator of the earth as a whole in terms of their bottle water line…and of course the soft drink giants are in on the emerging and insane bottled water industry too! Check this link on ge the drip on the leading brands in the crazed bottled water race!
    But perhaps we are one step away from realising all we need to drink is water-Paani!
    Shekhar Im so glad you are doing your film Paani Im so looking fwd to seeing it!

  15. In so many parts of the world, underground water is overused. It takes many years, in some places hundreds and thousands of years, to re-charge, let alone cope with so many industries drawing it out.
    I went to see the new James Bond film this week, which had a “plot” about fresh water being valued by the villains. When I first read about the script, several months ago, I was dismayed, because as many of you know I am writing my next novel about a similar premise. Thankfully, the Bond movie just glossed over the idea of water scarcity, leaving the way clear for my book which doesn’t get published until next August. I think the Bond people missed a big opportunity to really say something important with their film, considering they have such a massive audience, and I hope my book can do the issue justice. And Paani of course!

  16. Shekhar, you’re a man of my heart. I applaud your courage to expose the practices of what I believe to be one of the most destructive multinationals, if not the most destructive. Apart from the environmental damage, there is the huge cost to human health when it comes to people’s bodies being acidified with sugar-laden, high-phosphorus soft drinks. It takes 36 glasses of water to neutralise the acidity of a single can of soft drink… The blood gets flooded with phosphorus and the body’s natural reaction is to balance it out with calcium. The only place it can get that from is from the bones… Then think about what the excessive caffeine does to the adrenals and nervous system and the sugar to glucose balance or the effects of artificial sweeteners to the brain… I wished people were more conscious of what they put in their bodies…
    Again, if you have a look at the Masuru Emoto article I referred to in another post regarding ‘Nutrition vs the Karma of the Food’, it becomes clear how important the quality of water is to all of us as it affects every cell of our bodies… water represents a medium through which our thoughts materialise…
    Here’s a link directly to Masuru’s website, which I think is fascinating:
    I hope you don’t mind me posting so much but I’m just so excited about all the wonderful things you bring out in the open…

  17. sir you have raise avery serious issue,but neither the media nor the government is paying attention to this problem. hope your movie p-anni will raise this issue to a new level

  18. I just came across Coca-cola India advertisement in Readers Digest, which I thought I should tell you about.
    The advertisement is like this.
    ‘I cannot undo the past. But I help keep some memories intact.’
    ‘I am Mohan Lal Saini, a member of Coca-Cola’s ream involved in the restoration of the ‘Sarai Bawari’. This 400-year-old well was damaged and unfit for any use. We undertook the task of restoring it with the help of the local ‘Jal Rakshaks’. Today the Bawari not only provides water sustainability to the local community, it is a proud reminder of the cultural heritage of India. This is my drop of joy.’
    To know more about how we spread joy log on to
    Had I not read your blog I would have been really impressed with the coca-cola add.
    Anyways, interesting the way the cover up for the crime they are doing. They reach out to the masses with a small good act and impress them….

  19. Hello Shekhar
    thanks for bringing this to the light. I also feel that there are many things that has to be done. even after 50 yrs of independence, we are yet to solve the basic need of poor and rural ppl.
    There is a blog, which tell how easily we can make drinkable water from ocean water.
    Yes, this is not the solution, but might a small part to the solution.
    the problem and we ALL MUST accept is within ourselves. At this time of writing WE all are siting in a AC room, with stomach and pockets full. And that’s you we DON’T care. We don’t vote, we don’t care because we think its not our problem.
    In a way I am also a culprit and a part of this problem. I am an IT s/w guy, I earn good and forget about others. and this happens with everybody of us.
    The bigger picture is that we don’t ask for your rights, we don’t say to your local MCA, MP to intervene and come to some concrete results.
    We are brainy dogs.
    sorry to use strong language.

  20. Greeting. Learning to live in the present moment is part of the path of joy.
    I am from Malta and also am speaking English, tell me right I wrote the following sentence: “Cuckoo clocks, vintage style, neon, click buy button for price.”
    Thanks for the help :-(, Dymphna.

  21. Coca-Cola is not only to blame for the water shortage. They may be part of it but it is not soley their misdeed. Instead of always looking to blame others look to yourself to see what your doing wrong and can therefore, improve on.

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