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Soft drink slur on Centre

New Delhi, Dec. 10: Environmentalists have accused the Centre of bowing to pressure from Coke and Pepsi and stalling a joint parliamentary committee’s (JPC’s) recommendations on safety standards for soft drinks.

An action-taken report (ATR) placed in Parliament yesterday by the ministry of health and family welfare showed that it had sought second opinions on key suggestions or passed the buck to other ministries.

The 15-member JPC, headed by Sharad Pawar, was set up by the former A.B. Vajpayee regime following startling revelations by the Delhi-based NGO, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), in 2003.

A CSE study had claimed that all soft drinks brands sold by Coke and Pepsi contained pesticide residues above permitted levels. It named 12 brands and identified primarily four toxic pesticides and insecticides in them: Lindane, DDT, Malathion and Chlorpyrifos.

CSE director Sunita Narain today said the JPC’s crucial suggestion about fixing “stringent” standards for carbonated beverages had not been implemented. The House panel had said that “it is prudent to seek complete freedom from pesticide residues in sweetened aerated water”.

The ministry, however, has sought a second opinion from a little-known government panel. “The matter has been referred to the National Level Expert Group to guide Pesticide Residues Sub-Committee of CCFS (Central Committee for Food Standards) for detailed examination and recommendations, which is awaited,” the ATR said.

There is no further mention of this “expert group” or of how many times it has met, Narain said.

On the JPC’s call for monitoring of effluents from the Coke factories at Palakkad and Plachimada, the ATR merely said it was waiting for a reply from the Union ministry of environment and forests.

On the need to control excessive exploitation of groundwater by industries, the ATR said: “This relates to the ministry of water resources and that ministry has not informed the action-taken status.”

When it came to making the factories pay for the groundwater, the ATR again passed the buck to the water resources ministry. On the matter of providing consumers with non-caffeinated alternatives, it was the ministry of industry that hadn’t yet replied.

“This is an outright lie. This is not under the purview of the ministry of industry. It is a sub-committee on food additives in the ministry of health and the CCFS that is responsible for this,” Narain said.

Where the JPC talks of controlling pesticide levels in the sugar industry, the ATR said: “This relates to the ministry of agriculture and it has no information of action taken.”

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