Saturday, April 23, 2011


A discussion with a Padarincang citizen, who fights Aqua-Danone

The resistance of the people of Padarincang has forced the Frenchmultinational,Danone, to abandon their plans to build a bottled water factory in the area, at least for now. Ovi, a student from the area, tells the story of the community's struggle, explaining how self-organisation, with no formal leadership structure, has contributed to their success.

PT. Aqua Golden Mississippi was established in 1973 by Tirto Utomo. It's first factory was located in Pondok Ungu, Bekasi, West Java. The factory was called Golden Mississippi and it alone had a capacity to produce 6 million litres per year. At the beginning Aqua was called Puritas, but later changed its name, folowing advice from Eulindra Lim - Tirto Utomo's consultant. Aqua's first product was packed in a glass bottle of 950 ml volume and was sold for Rp. 75. Its cost was almost double that of petrol, which at the time stood at Rp. 46 for 1.000 ml.[1]

On 4th of September, 1998, Aqua Golden Mississipi sold its shares to Danone, a French multinational corporation, the giant in the instant food products market. This was done so that Aqua would be able to take on the tough competition in the Bottled Drinking Water business. Two years after, Aqua released a product labelled Danone-Aqua.

With a 74% majority of shares held by Danone, Aqua become increasingly confident to continue its expansion in many areas where natural springs with good fresh water could be found. Needless to say, the main objective for Aqua is profit and capital accumulation.

The area is located in the far west of Java, in Padarincang District, Serang, Banten, and it is rich in natural springs that have been targeted by various corporations engaged in the water industry, particularly Bottled Drinking Water. There are currently already several companies attempting to exploit this region.

To the citizens of the 14 villages that make up Padarincang, PT. Tirta Investama is nothing more than a parasite that would add to the problem of water shortages already being experienced in several areas. Accounts of people's experiences elsewhere in Java, in Klaten and Sukabumi, provide empirical justification for the people of Padarincang to continue rejecting Danone-Aqua's plans to build a factory[2]

Since 2008, after the effectiveness of the rising number of Padarincang citizens resisting the project, Aqua-Danone was inactive for about 2 years. Recently, since 2010, the Aqua-Danone plant construction has resumed. With this, the residents of Padaringcang have also resumed their active stand, trying to thwart the construction of the plant a in variety of ways. Some of the activities conducted by the residents have been: initiation of audiences with relevant government officials, building a solidarity network with various individuals, forums, creating new organisations and so on.

On 5th of December 2010, the people of Padarincang showed their strength. Around 4000 people from all villages in Padarincang district came to the plant location on foot. They were men and woman, young and old, in harmony in their united resistance to the construction of the Aqua-Danone plant. The presence of police, who always side with the company, brought people's emotions to the point of explosion. The company's production equipment became a legitimate target. The drilling tools, buildings and cars owned by PT.Tirta were turn into junk.

In February 2011, through various news media, Aqua gave notice that it had cancelled its plans to exploit water resources in the Cirahab area of Padarincang district. [3]. PT. Tirta Investama chose to back out from its plans in Padarincang and look for other areas, which according to rumours are still located in other parts of Serang Regency.

Inspired by and involved in the Padarincang's people struggle, Ovi - a Padaringcangi youth who took an active part in the fight against water privatization - relates:

“ Actually, the aim of the action of the 5th of December 2010 was to close Aqua's drillings in Padarincang. Even if at the beginning there was no exact plan to destroy the pilot project, nevertheless because the people were so sick of having Aqua in Padarincang, in the end their rage couldn't be contained anymore. The drilling location was meant to have been closed since 2008 actually, so the people went there to find out why on the contrary was it now to be reopened.

“ The action made by the people was truly spontaneous, not planned beforehand. But it resulted in the company's buildings on the drilling location being levelled to the ground and a few policemen securing the site got injured by stones hurled at them by the people.

“ The action that the people took that day was a direct consequence of the repeated failures of each attempt to meet with the officials. People had asked for an audience several times, but all their proposals were rejected by the government. The government condemns the people for what happened, asking why it had to reach the point of causing destruction to the pilot project. But the people have reasons behind their actions, reasons for our resistance to Aqua who have been ignoring the people’s requests to have an audience. So it's they who have brought it on themselves!”

What happened after 5th of December action?

After that action, the government didn't show any wiser attitude in response to our demands, on the contrary they started to kidnap the people who took part in 5th December action. Why do we call what they did kidnapping, not arresting? Because the way they did it wasn't in accordance with the procedures. What happened was, that the police came and surrounded the houses of those of people who they chose to target. The police detained the people straight away without clarifying anything. They only said, “this is an arrest warrant”, but didn't give the targeted people an opportunity to read the document. Moreover, the arrests took place early in the morning [around 2am], 5 days after the closing of the drilling location.

Before the arrests took place, the police had telephoned Haji Dhaif, a prominent community member . They said that they wish to meet the people and to hold a discussion about the action at the drilling site. The police promised the people that they would not make any arrests, and we accepted that promise. Nevertheless a few days later, early in the morning of Friday [10/12/2010], the arrest of 5 people took place. The arrested people felt as if they were being accused of theft in their own house.'This is our home, why are we treated like this?'

What is GRAPPAD(People's movement against the construction of Aqua Danone factory
/ Gerakan Rakyat Anti Pembangunan Pabrik Aqua Danone)?

GRAPPAD is a movement that was formed by the people of Padarincang themselves. We have neither a leader, nor standard structures, and it's purely the people who set things in motion - it is the people who are joined in the same conscious need to protect Padarincang.

The majority of people involved in GRAPPAD are farmers, since farming is a main source of livelihood for the citizens of Padarincang. The people think that they have all the reasons to resist the existence of Aqua plant in Padarincang. Even though these farmers are simple villagers, it doesn't mean they can be fooled just like that by the corporation's sweet promises.

These farmers have also learned about the possible impacts of a bottled water plant. In the farmers’ experience, there are water shortages in the dry season already. So the people think that if there is already not enough water even without the drillings, then what will happen if the drillings will actually take place? What the farmers are doing is pure, because it comes from what they think, their own anxiety about the construction of the Aqua-Danone plant. There is no agitation here.

The people of Padarincang aren't blind to information. They have learned from the news broadcast by mass media, that there are a lot of problems that come with the corporations, they are familiar with the Lapindo case and other similar ones. Also the cases of drought that occurred in several areas in Indonesia. That information supply has broadened farmers' consciousness and has moved them to resist Aqua.

The government is wrong if they think that there is some kind of intellectual actor behind us. In fact, NGO's, student movement and other groups, who also resist Aqua, have only approached us after the people made their move. The first front of the resistance to the construction of the Aqua plant has come from farmers, local people and ulama [religious advisers].

There are many journalists who ask: “Who is the leader of GRAPPAD?” But those who come to us most frequently are the police, with their intimidating questions: “Who is paying you?” To all these questions our answer is ”no-one”. In GRAPPAD, the people themselves are the “leader”, and we manage the movement by our own means. The money that we have comes from the very people who fight. No-one sponsors us. We'll welcome people who want to donate to our movement, as long as there are no hidden interests behind that donation. If, in the contrary, there is something of that sort, we'll ask them to leave. We don't need that, because we are the peoples' movement, we want to remain pure.

During your membership of GRAPPAD, what is your opinion about this kind of structures in the movement?

By my private judgement, this kind of structure for the movement is really good. Without having a leader, without hierarchical structures, this movement isn't centralised. When a leadership structure exists, there must be a command before people will take action. With a non-hierarchical pattern, it will be difficult to silence the movement. When there is a leader, it's a different story. As soon as a leader is chosen, the case is closed. The movement is dead.

How about a decision making process in GRAPPAD?

The biggest decisions are in the hands of the people. If there is a proposal to do some activity, whether it comes from the youth, other groups in solidarity with us, or even devoted ulama, the religious scholars who would usually guide the community, it still will be discussed first of all in GRAPPAD. Every member of society is involved; decisions remain in the hands of the people. There is no leadership tyranny in GRAPPAD. We never force anyone to follow this movement; it's the people’s initiative to be a part of it.

Is there a division regarding social status in GRAPPAD?

In GRAPPAD, there is no division regarding social status. Whoever the person is, be it businessman, ulama, farmer, student, their position and the right to express their opinion will be the same. Even if quite often ulama become the people who are being asked their opinion, they do not have any more rights than anyone else's. Ulama often become advisers or mediators, if differences of opinion should emerge between the people. Nevertheless, to return to the point, the collective decision still remains in the hands of the people, not a few chosen individuals. Despite the fact that the above-mentioned ulama could have the ability to take the decisions themselves and then to influence the society to follow their line, they never do that. Every decision about the measures to take comes back to the people.

How are the non-hierarchical structures taken care of and how do they work in GRAPPAD?

Every single person's trust provides the key to the success of this movement. It is only that trust alone, there is no form of enforcing anything inside GRAPPAD. That makes this organisation healthier. GRAPPAD is a movement that is formed by the consciousness of each individual, their thoughts and their feeling of responsibility to protect Padarincang.

Let's ask the most basic question. Why resist Aqua-Danone?

There are several reasons. First comes the most basic fact. The water, earth, and nature's richness cannot be turned into a commercial business for the benefit of a small group of people. The second reason is that people are concerned that these springs, sources of water, could come to be owned by a few people, and the majority of local people will have limited access. A farmer’s livelihood, more than anyone else's, totally depends on water.

I myself have tried to enter the drilling location. But already at the gate, I was asked many questions: “Where are you coming from?”, “Who are you?”, “What do you want here?”, “Did you already get the permit from the village chief?” Before anything, you know. They have just recently put up a sign saying “This ground belongs to Aqua” - what then will happen when the plant is built? Before the drilling location was established, people could enter freely to that area and take the water from the spring. After Aqua came, it became much more difficult to access the water.

Apart from that, the people got a lot of information about the Aqua's future production process. The amount of water to be taken out would reach 63 litres/second. Imagine, 63 litres/second multiplied by 24 hours, multiplied by how many years? That is the reason why the people of Padarincang resist the existence of Aqua.

In fact, it is not only the issue of the spring. The ground on which Aqua plans to drill is actually 12 hectares of productive agricultural land. There are farmers who will lose their livelihoods if Aqua builds it's plant in Padarincang.

How were the relations between the people before Aqua-Danone came?

Before Aqua came, the relations between people were very good. As far as the people living in Padarincang district were concerned, there were still family-based connections, and they worked well. When Aqua arrived, the people had to face the disruption of community conflict initiated by the corporation. setting neighbour against neighbour. Not only neighbours, but the split would often also occur within families, dividing a family into those who were for Aqua's operations and those who were against. Most of people who are pro-Aqua, have actually been paid to support the drilling. In fact one village government official confessed that they had been paid 1 million Rupiah/month just to wait and guard the drilling location day or night.

Do you think that the presence of industry, Aqua or any other, could affect long-established community relations?

Clearly yes. Even at this moment the presence of Aqua-Danone is a huge disturbance in Padarincang's people's lives, and that's even before the plant is built. What would it be like, if the plant is constructed and the production process starts? Already now, the corporation starts to divide people and provokes conflict within the community. And this is before we really feel the effects of the gap created between the people, even within families. Before, Aqua was promising to employ 2000 workers from the local area. However, after we looked into the Environmental Impact Assessment documents, it came out that only 175 local people would be employed. It is obvious to us what kind of people could get a position there, only a certain sort of person will get accepted there. What's more, if the plant starts operating, it is certain that there will be a tough selection process, and local people will lose out.

How about the State, what is your position on that?

It's sure that the state takes the side of the industry! In fact, up to this moment, Taufik (the Bupati of Serang) is still determined to defend Aqua by refusing to revoke the document [SK] that gave permission to build the plant in Padarincang. The government has never bothered to listen to us, despite the fact that we have repeatedly demanded that they close down the Aqua drilling site.

How about the role of women inside GRAPPAD?

In Padarincang, the role of women is just as important as that of the men. Water is a necessity and women really need it in their everyday lives, for bathing, drinking, cleaning and so on. So how can you imagine women remaining quiet, if their right to water is about to be taken away?

So what are women's activities in this movement?

The Koran-reading sessions which women often organise have been one effective way of spreading information about Aqua's drilling plans. There is no-one that forces them to resist the existence of Aqua, because the information isn't delivered in a provocative way. And the women, most of whom are mothers, are just as conscious as the men of the need to resist Aqua - it comes from the same concerns. From forum to forum, from religious meeting to religious meeting, the women are becoming more active and braver in the resistance.

Were women actively involved in the direct action to close Aqua drilling location?

At the beginning not so much, maybe only around 10 percent, compared to the amount of men involved at the time. But after praying together and since the “kidnappings”, many more women are increasingly involved.

I myself, as a student and a young woman, am very proud of this movement. Even if in the beginning I didn't really believe that it could work, for GRAPPAD to have no leader. Nevertheless, after I started to be more involved, the reality showed me the facts: there is no leader, there are no standard structures, there is no situation when a small group of people sets the movement in motion, and in the end Aqua has been successfully chased away!

{11/03/11/ frd&jck}


[1] Source taken from

[2] The source taken from the chronology of the struggle of Padarincang people versus Aqua-Danone, written by the people themselves. Info:

[3] source taken from

Aqua-Danone (through PT. Tirta Investama) set its sights on the Cirahab area as ripe for exploitation. The company got the blessing of H. Ahmad Taufik, the Bupati or leader of Serang Regency who issued the license with number 593/Kep.50-Huk/2007.

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