The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pragmatic cola from Buddha

Chennai, Aug. 13: The comrades in Kerala have bottled up Coke and Pepsi, but Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee believes it is pointless for “individual states” to ban the cola twins.

The chief minister wants the Centre to take the final decision.

Bhattacharjee said scattered bans by one or two states serve no purpose as “they (Coke and Pepsi) would leave” such states and go to others. Therefore, it is up to the central government to come out with the “final decision”, he told a news conference in Chennai, where he also met potential investors.

The comments by Bhattacharjee, who wants industry to see Bengal as a friendly destination, came on a day a US official said the cola ban could send wrong signals to prospective investors ( ). Bhattacharjee is scheduled to visit the US later this year.

Last week, Kerala, ruled by a Left government, had banned the production and distribution of Coke and Pepsi after an NGO’s study found pesticide residues in the two multinationals’ soft drinks.

By putting the ball in the Centre’s court, Bhattacharjee has steered clear of a thorny issue and set himself apart from the hardline group in Kerala without explicitly making any adverse comment against a government headed by his own party.

Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan was under pressure to be seen as acting against the cola giants because he had led a campaign against ground water exploitation when he was in the opposition.

The Bengal chief minister is under no such compulsion but questions were being raised why two governments of the same party are not taking a similar stand. Bhattacharjee’s comments are being viewed as an attempt to address such questions.

Bhattacharjee said he had asked the Kerala government to send him a copy of the ban order. In Bengal, “our environment department laboratory and the state pollution control board are investigating the matter”, he said. But “we are in touch with the Centre, which has its own testing laboratories and they should come out with their opinion”.

The Centre has not done so yet. Neither has it notified the pesticide residue standards.

Asked about his meetings with industrialists in Chennai, Bhattacharjee said: “I met many of them, particularly from leading automotive and textile companies.”

But he added with a smile: “I cannot reveal names now. That is a secret.”

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