New Delhi: The Central Board of Film Certification has refused to pass a documentary about farmers’ opposition to Coca Cola bottling plants, claiming that “the film more than education, is misleading and political motive [sic]. Hence the film is not passed in its present form.” The decision raises old questions about whether it is the role of the CBFC to evaluate the political validity of films placed before it.
Charlie and the Coca Cola Company is focused on two plants in Mehdiganj, north-eastern Uttar Pradesh. In 2004, farmers protested against the over-extraction of groundwater there, at close to zero cost, and its effects on the area’s water table.
Police cracked down on the protests, allegedly on the behest of the corporation.
Activist filmmaker Jharana Jhaveri became interested in Coca Cola’s operations in India following Down to Earth magazine’s investigation into pesticide residues in soft drinks. Their project expanded to look at Coke’s advertising practices and its celebrity endorsements, including by Aamir Khan.
In a letter dated 31 August, 2016, the CBFC declared that ‘a certificate cannot be issued’, with the reason being that the film is ‘misleading and political motive’.
On Facebook, the filmmaker Rakesh Sharma said:
“I believe CBFC has to cite the specific clause and the subsection under which they are denying you a certificate. Failure to do so itself makes this ruling illegal, especially as there is no section in the Cinematograph Act or the Cinema Certification Rules that contains the grounds cited – “political film.”
Sharma had endured his own long battle with the Censor Board – then headed by Anupam Kher – over its refusal to certify Final Solution, his documentary about the 2002 Gujarat killings.
Plants operated by Coca Cola’s main subsidiary and bottling franchises have faced opposition in numerous parts of the country – including Plachimada in Kerala (where farmers succeeded in getting the plant shut down), Hapur in UP, Vizag in Andhra Pradesh, Brynihal in Meghalaya, Kala Dera in Rajasthan, and near the Narmada River in Gujarat, and Balli in UP, where this film was shot. Last month, operations were stopped at Coca Cola’s plant in Dasna, UP, after the UP Pollution Control Board flagged environmental violations.
Last year, new guidelines were issued by the Central Ground Water Authority in an effort to check the over-extraction of water for private industrial use. However, the excise levied on products like bottled water means state governments often encourage the diversion of water to private bottling plants. A Coca Cola plant in Andhra Pradesh, for instance, received 5 million litres of water a day – piped from the Krishna river – at 0.03 paise per litre.
Under CBFC rules, the filmmakers can appeal the decision and if unsuccessful at the appellate stage, move the high court.