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Pepsi leads legal fightback
- Soft drink major moves court against NGO and Centre, Coke limits fight to Maharashtra

New Delhi, Aug. 8: Coke and Pepsi have pulled on their legal gloves to slam their detractors. The two filed writ petitions in Bombay and Delhi high courts today.

But while Pepsi gunned for both the government and the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), which said in a report 12 soft drinks contained pesticide residue higher than international limits, Coca-Cola only challenged the Maharashtra government’s confiscation of stock from its Pune plant.

A Coke official said: “We have initiated our legal action. Coke has filed a petition in Bombay High Court and Pepsi in Delhi.”

“We will be happy to see them in court as we have nothing to hide,” said Sunita Narain, director of the CSE. “We have not received copies of the petitions as yet, we are eagerly waiting for it.”

The Pepsi petition, filed by Pepsico India Holdings Ltd and its bottler Pearl Drinks through its director C.K. Jaipuria, sought to restrain the CSE from publishing its report. It also sought a direction from the court to the Union government not to act on the basis of the CSE report.

The petition named the Union ministries of health, defence and food processing, the Bureau of Indian Standards and the CSE as respondents.

Pepsi sought an “ex parte interim injunction” restraining the respondents from acting in any manner against the company.

It wanted the government to immediately set up an independent committee of experts to ascertain the veracity of the CSE report.

It also sought a restraining order on Narain from publishing “any unsubstantiated statements or materials against Pepsico and to forthwith withdraw all such material from circulation and from its website”.

The Coke petition was filed by Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt Ltd, its bottling subsidiary. The petition, which challenged an official notice prohibiting sale and distribution of the seized goods, came up before a bench headed by chief justice C.K. Thakker. The Maharashtra government was given time till August 11 to reply.

Coke argued that the officer who had seized the stock had no powers to do so and order a ban on its sale.

Government counsel Sudip Nargolkar argued that the matter concerned public health and the government had the power to prevent sale of the products under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act.

The seized stock — tens of thousands of bottles of various drinks — has been sent to the state public health laboratory for testing and reports are awaited.

Coke offered to undertake testing of its products at Vimta Labs in Hyderabad or Choksi Lab in Indore.

The war of words between the companies and the CSE escalated today with Pepsi issuing a strong rebuttal of the environmental group’s accusation that the soft drink makers were passing off laboratory results pertaining to their bottled water as those of their soft drink brands.

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