The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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JPC crown of thorns

New Delhi, Aug. 22: Wanted: A person to head a joint parliamentary committee. Parliament membership can be waived for a candidate with exceptional experience, i.e., having put away at least a thousand bottles of soft drinks.

It almost came to that. No MP worth his salt — or pinch of pesticide — from the country’s two largest parties wanted to head the JPC the government announced today to examine reports of pesticide content in soft drinks made by Coke and Pepsi.

First, the government offered the position to Sonia Gandhi, but she refused. Shivraj Patil, the Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, was sounded next. No luck.

Ditto in the BJP. Many feel, instead of setting at rest the controversy, a JPC report will only give it more longevity and perhaps earn its members some notoriety as bonus whether or not the soft drinks are given a clean chit.

Sources said BJP chief whip Vijay Kumar Malhotra as well as Shanta Kumar, a former minister in the Vajpayee government, turned down requests to head the panel.

A source close to Malhotra said he excused himself citing the coming Delhi polls. Shanta Kumar did not so much as offer a reason, but said “no, thank you” with a mischievous smile.

Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar did not so much as bat an eyelid, though, when the offer came from Speaker Manohar Joshi, said sources.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who yesterday demanded a JPC, did not come on board, but nominated son Akhilesh Yadav.

Health and parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said in the Lok Sabha yesterday that 12 soft drink brands did conform to “the standards prescribed under the Prevention of Food Adulteration rules, all these are well within the safety limits as per existing standards of packaged drinking water”.

She made the announcement after tests in government laboratories. Some members had then asked her how much “donation” was paid by the multinationals to the government.

This forms the context for the reluctance of senior leaders of the BJP and the Congress to head the JPC.

The committee has also been asked to suggest criteria for evolving safety standards for soft drinks, fruit juices and other beverages where water is the main constituent.

“Of the 15 members, nine are from the Opposition and only six from the NDA. Whatever the charges (related to a report favouring Coke and Pepsi or otherwise), the Opposition will have to answer. They are in majority and the chairman belongs to the Opposition,” said a BJP leader with unconcealed glee.

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