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India authority orders Coke plant closed

Authorities in northern India have ordered the closure of a Coca-Cola bottling plant at the centre of protests that it is extracting too much groundwater, an official said on Wednesday.

LUCKNOW: Authorities in northern India have ordered the closure of a Coca-Cola bottling plant at the centre of protests that it is extracting too much groundwater, an official said on Wednesday.

An anti-pollution official said the Mehdiganj plant in Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh had breached the conditions of its operating licence, prompting the order closure earlier this month.

"The plant is closed following our orders," Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board member secretary J S Yadav told AFP.

"They have also been asked to take suitable measures to recharge the depleting groundwater level by twice the amount they have extracted.

"Also, the effluents released by the plant contain pollutants beyond the permissible limits."

The company has appealed the closure order to India's environment court, the National Green Tribunal, saying the allegations were false.

Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited, a unit of Coca-Cola, said the plant has been in operation for 15 years "complying with all regulatory approvals and applicable laws".

The unit said in a statement that it was confident the courts would find that it has acted in the "best interests of the communities we serve".

The company hit a hurdle earlier this year when local authorities said they would demolish the Varanasi plant, claiming it was built on village council land and was "illegal".

The authorities also imposed a 126,000 rupee ($2,000) fine on the company over the land issue.

India is one of Coke's fastest-growing markets thanks to an expanding middle class.

The bottling plant, one of 58 that Atlanta-based Coca-Cola has in India, has been at the centre of protests for years.

Demonstrators accuse the company of creating major water shortages through excessive extraction of water and of polluting groundwater and soil.

Coke, the world's largest soft drinks maker, last year announced the completion of work to expand the Varanasi bottling facility which can produce 600 polyethylene terephthalate bottles a minute.

Protests have been held against Coke's bottling plants in other parts of the country, alleging depletion of groundwater and pollution.

Activists welcomed the Varanasi plant's closure, claiming the company has a dismal environmental record.

"Coca-Cola's thirst for profits in India has placed its business interests over the well-being of communities and the environment and this is not acceptable," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Centre, an activist group.

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