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Coke fined for insects in Sprite

New Delhi, April 28 (PTI): A city consumer court today ordered Coca-Cola to pay over Rs 1 lakh after a man found dead insects in an unopened bottle of Sprite, advertised as the company’s top product in the soft drinks market.

“It seems that giant companies have only focused their eyes on their one-point programme ' make money. For that end they will even play with the public’s health,” the district consumer redressal forum (north), comprising its president K.K. Chopra and members R.K. Prabhakar and Neeru Mittal, said.

Atul Khattar, the complainant, had registered the case against Coca-Cola Company, Atlanta, USA, Hindustan Coca-Cola Manufacturing Co Pvt Ltd, local manufacturer Moon Beverages Ltd and Suri Cold Drink, the retail outlet from which he had bought the contaminated drink.

Directing Coca-Cola and its three ancillaries to bear the damages “jointly or severally”, the forum directed them to pay Rs 1 lakh to the consumer legal aid fund here and Rs 20,000 to the complainant for the mental agony caused to him.

This judgment follows an earlier one by the same forum ordering identical compensation against soft drinks major Pepsico after a consumer found a condom in a sealed Pepsi bottle.

Khattar had bought the bottle in the capital on August 10, 2003. He was shocked to find dead insects floating in it.

He filed a complaint with the district forum seeking damages of over Rs 5 lakh for negligence and deficiency in service.

Coca-Cola denied any liability towards the complainant claiming that the brand Sprite was not its product.

The court effectively countered this argument by annexing as proof certified copies of prints taken from an authorised company web site advertising Sprite.

It warned Coca-Cola of legal action for perjury for deliberately attempting to mislead the court by submitting “false affidavits” before it.

It brushed aside Coke’s contention that the bottle may have been manufactured by unscrupulous people bent on spoiling the company’s reputation.

“Coca-Cola is vicariously responsible for the spurious manufacturing of Sprite and cannot absolve itself from the prescribed standards of purity as per relevant law,” the forum observed.

It also directed the company to pay Rs 3,000 in litigation costs to the complainant. Coca-Cola said it would “file a statutory appeal”.

“In some cases where foreign particles have been reported in soft drinks, we have analysed (the contents of the bottle) and found that the products were spurious,” the company said in a statement here.

“We have proactively taken steps to contain the menace of spurious manufacturers by pursuing both civil and criminal action against such manufacturers.”

The company said it followed “stringent international processes to monitor the quality of products and adhere to global manufacturing standards”, adding that its products were “safe and hygienic”.

The company added, “With a view to ensure even more stringent quality checks, we are now also progressively installing EBIS (equipment that can detect even the minutest of foreign particles in the bottles) at the bottling plants”.

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