The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cola cocktail flows to court

Aug. 18: The cola clash has diluted divisions: now it’s Coke and Pepsi versus the Left government in Kerala and the BJP-allied government versus Coke in Karnataka.

If the fizz is not enough, both Coke and Pepsi have found an ideal model in another Left-ruled state, Bengal

The cola clash today swished its way to courtrooms with the two soft drink giants challenging the Kerala government’s ban on production and distribution on the basis of an NGO’s report.

The Karnataka government has decided to file a case against Coca-Cola tomorrow for “high levels” of melathene content in the soft drink.

Karnataka health minister R. Ashok said melathene in Coke samples was found to be 0.15 per cent, against the “prescribed” limit of 0.1 per cent. He did not say who prescribed the limit because the Centre is yet to notify the norms.

If Karnataka — ruled by the Janata Dal (S)-BJP combine — does move court, it will become the first government in the country to sue the cola giant over toxic residue.

Amid the countdown to the court battle, Pepsi and Coke officials said in Calcutta that the Bengal government’s decision to await the final word from the Centre and go in for independent tests is the “best” one to follow.

The Pepsi and Coke petitions in Kerala High Court have been listed for hearing on Monday.

“We are seeking relief from the order that prohibits sale of our products in the state,” Atul Singh, president and CEO, Coca-Cola India, said in Calcutta.

The companies, which have moved separate petitions, will contend that the Kerala government had arrogated to itself powers that rest with the Centre. The government did not hear out the companies and so the decision and the procedures are flawed in law, the court will be told.

The report of the Centre for Science and Environment that found harmful pesticide residues in 11 soft drink brands of the two companies could not be relied on, the companies said. There were reports by accredited agencies vouchsafing for the safety of their products, they added.

“The way the West Bengal government has gone about it is the best that state governments can do,” said Abhiram Seth, executive director, exports and external affairs, PepsiCo India. Seth was also in Calcutta.

Coke officials echoed the sentiment.

As they employ different strategies — Pepsi has written to health secretaries of states while Coke has posted test reports on its website — there is no missing the camaraderie between the sworn rivals.

“Yes, we are talking to each other. There is no doubt that we are competitors, but right now we have the same objective and we will co-operate with each other,” Seth said. Singh agreed.

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