New Delhi, Aug. 6: Defence minister George Fernandes, who had banished Coke from India in 1977 when he was in the Morarji Desai government, could not be reached for comment but his colleagues in Parliament today took the cue from him.
Twelve soft drink brands of Coca-Cola and Pepsi were banned inside the Parliament complex as health minister Sushma Swaraj announced on the floor of the House that the government had sought a comprehensive report on the findings of a study that suggested high levels of pesticide residue in the products.
“The government will take steps keeping in mind the collective wisdom of the members here,” she said.
Describing the issue as “serious and startling”, Swaraj said her reaction was the same as that of her fellow MPs after seeing media reports. “I will collect all the facts and come back to the House,” she added.
Soft drinks were withdrawn from all the three canteens in Parliament — one exclusively for MPs, one for officials, the media and guests of MPs and the third only for journalists, said E. Ahmed, chairman of the joint parliament committee on food management.
Ahmed’s decision to withdraw the drinks, which was announced in the Lok Sabha, was received with thumping of desks by members cutting across party lines.
Describing the drinks as “poison and silent killer”, K. Malaisamy of the ADMK said: “If you dip a tooth in a glass of any brand of the MNC drink, you will find it disintegrating after 48 hours.”
The controversy over carcinogenic cadmium content in the solid waste disposed by a Coke plant in Kerala also reared its head when a Congress member raised it.
Asked why he slapped the ban merely relying on the findings of an NGO, Ahmed said if the health ministry produced a report that the drinks were safe, he would lift the ban.
He said he had consulted Speaker Manohar Joshi before taking the decision. “There was a deep sense of anguish in all sections of the House and it was my duty to respond to their sentiments,” said Ahmed. The Speaker is also a member of the committee.
Ahmed said schools and colleges should also ban the drinks.
Earlier in the day, the Speaker rejected several pleas to move an adjournment motion, but allowed an impromptu discussion during zero hour.
Shiv Sena member Suresh Jatav said the multinational companies were not only looting the country, but also spreading dreaded disease through these drinks.
Guess what, at the other political extreme, the CPM agreed. Its member .. Krishnadas and the CPI’s Prabodh Panda said the drinks should be banned forthwith to save future generations.
And, yes, at least one member of Fernandes’ Samata Party — Renu Kumari — said Coke and Pepsi should be thrown out of the country. Déjà vu.