Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Pepsi and Coke can be asked to get out and they Must be asked now...

Among the various symbols of the Liberalisation-Privatisation-Globalisation agenda, the two cola majors – Coke and Pepsi – have been the most prominent. There are, ofcourse, many others. The mobile phone instruments, the motor-cycles, the shampoos in sachets and the internet cafes have captured the imagination of a generation. There are the shopping malls in and around our metropolitan cities, the holiday resorts and the way in which the young boys and girls dress up.

We have also seen the arrival of a new brand of newspapers, pink in colour, that declare war on our own instruments of democracy including Parliament and try day in and day out to delegitimise the politician. They carry out this battle by presenting the politician, particularly those who still question some of the deals between our own leaders and the various multinational corporations and even muster documentary evidence to show that many such deals are inimical to the nation’s interest, as the detractors and anti-nationals.

Such struggles as the one carried out by Medha Pathkar in the Narmada valley, by Thomas Kochery through the long coastline and the battles against the setting up of a cola plant in Gangaikondan, against the Koodankulam atomic energy plant and against the sethusamudram project are described by them as a waste of energy and against the nation’s interest.

These mercenaries are indeed shaken, once again, by the bold efforts by a team of dedicated activists led by Sunita Narain. In her dogged pursuit for the truth and national interest, Narain and her associates went on to establish, once again, that the various brands of ``soft’’ drinks peddled by the two cola majors contain a heavy overdose of pesticide residues. And faced with the harsh reality, the cola majors are continuing to play tricks with our own media playing ball.

Their trick is to say that the samples have been tested in a lab in London and that they confirm to standards set by the European Union. And our own newspapers are carrying this advertisements, most of them spread over half a page, and earning huge revenue out of that. The point is that these bottled drinks, sold in India, contain pesticide residues that are above the standards set by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BSI) and hence it is the duty of our own State Governments to ban their sale because they are inimical to the health of our citizens.

The second and most spurious argument peddled in the news section of our media is that any adverse action against the cola majors can affect the ``confidence’’ of the foreign investor. It is sad that these custodians of our nation’s interest do not recall whatever happened to another such fraud on the nation a few years ago; the sage of Enron! This company was found to have been a fraud and involved in a whole lot of fraudulent deals and despite this, considered as a saviour of India when they came to set up a power plant in Maharashtra.

After destroying large tracts of our mangroves and siphoning out a lot of our own money, the company went off without generating one unit of electricity. The fact is that nothing happened to India and its economy even after this fraud left the country. Ofcourse, precious resources were lost and no one who saw the deal through – N.K.P.Salve who as Union Minister for Power negotiated the deal – were asked to explain why they let this fraud into the country and loot its resources.

But then, the point is that even if banning the sale and manufacture of the coloured water by these two cola majors would lead to a fall in foreign investments, the nation can afford it because the health of its people is far more important than the few hundred dollars these MNCs bring in every year. It is also a fact that these MNCs come with technology that reduces human labour substantially and hence their contribution to generating jobs in the country is insignificant.

It is also a fact that they take away large tracts of agricultural land at cheap prices (because our own political leaders facilitate that) and pose serious threats to our own food security. The fact is that when more and more agricultural land is taken over for industrial activities there is less and less of agricultural production and this in turn will lend us, as a nation, vulnerable to import of foodgrains. Similarly, when the farmer is enticed with a few lakhs as compensation to his holdings, he stops engaging in productive activities and the land is let fallow. This, in the long run, will reduce the nation to abject dependence on food imports.

And while the salariat and the blue collar worker (in the factories and the BPOs set up by the MNC) can afford to buy and consume food products imported from outside the country, the poor and the poorer sections of the society will be left to starve. The point is also whether everyone will reconcile themselves to their fate and starve? No. A number of them will not hesitate to loot the supermarkets and turn into bandits. This is happening today in South Africa and many other parts of the world where the LPG framework as taken as the mantra.

All these are reasons that we as a nation act firmly against Pepsi and Coke, the two symbols of the LPG era. And yes. Budhadeb Bhattacharya, should be taught that it is the duty of the State Government as much as the Centre to save its people. Bhattacharya was heard wondering, even after his own party’s Government in Kerala banned the sale of the two colas and their other products, as to whether it was his job or that of the Centre to take such a step.

Well Mr. Bhattacharya, if you have the right to negotiate and invite foreign investors, you also have the duty to tell them to behave properly. It is your duty to ensure that spurious stuff is not sold in the shops in your state.


Anonymous KALPIT MANKIKAR said...

Dear Mr. Krishna Ananth,

Despite my alleged ‘pro-capitalist’ leanings, I couldn’t agree more your article on ‘Pesti-cola’. You are right about MNCs, they can’t be allowed to mint money in India to the peril of our people.


6:20 AM  
Blogger Vibha said...

i have a slightly different opinion on this one. much as i would like to see coke and pepsi out of the country, i don't know how much of a case we have against them on grounds of health. coz' on the same grounds there are a lot of products that should be banned.

other issues such as groundwater exploitation, loss of land and labour displacement, should be the issues we must capitalise on more than health right now.

and i really don't know how much a ban helps solving an issue in a democracy. we really need to change mindsets about foriegn capital and large scale technology.

4:39 AM  
Blogger arushchopra said...


Another new twist to the contoversy. Today's HT reports- "Pepsi has pesticides almost three times the permissible limit.......that pesticide content in Coca Cola samples were within the permissible limit."
The turn of events seems straight out of corporate- Madhur Bhandarkar's most recent film. Just like in the film, the possibility of coke fudging the report by money power cannot be ruled out.

And yes the pink papers, the economic times actually wrote an op-ed about how the cola companies never got a chance to tell their side of the story. haha..I agree with you.
the link to the HT article is here-,001302440000.htm?headline=Coke~clean,~Pepsi~in~trouble

7:00 AM  
Blogger arushchopra said...

a first hand experience about the tyranny at the colas-

7:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More important than the land that is made availble to these MNC's is the fact that they are given ground water resources totally free subject to a cap on the water they can withdraw. coke and pepsi are nothing but water which has more sugar than is beneficail for the health and some flavour which gives them their look and taste and the secret ingredients of which are guarded. as a matter of fact the ingredients of coke and are sealed in a bank vault in atlanta, US. they escape scrutinny beause beverage law worlwide provides for"added floavours clause" which means the company does not have to name it. coming bak to the point,the free ground water is also used by these companies to sell packaged drinking water and both coke and pepsi have a stake in the market. so essentially the govt. is letting them sell our own water which costs around Rs 2-3 to bottle to ten times its value for Rs 12.thousands of cubic litres of water are withdrwan daily by these companies. it often results in the ground water level abysmally going down. who suffers from this? not the ministers who go out of their way to court these companies but the poor villagers whose water is taken. the so called limit on the withdrawl is of no use as the babus of the water and irrigation Depts. enjoy the pepsi and coke. the other side is these sofdrinks plants discharge all kinds of sludge right outside their factories which often pollutes the river and the ponds as the Kerala experience shows. It's a win all situation for the cola companies. first they take water for free and then contaminate the local area by pollutants and then say that the indian groundwater has high level of pesticides so its not their fault and anyway vegetables also have the same level of pesticides. even if its true the poor farmer can argue that at the mere mention of free water to him the pink papers in all their wisdom dub it as "populist measures" that will ruin the public finances. and when its coke and pepsi its the most egalitarian thing the govt can do. my mind goes back to 1977 when one fiery trade union leader did throw away crtes of coke on the streets and told them to get out. George where are you? Is the fire still on?

6:45 AM  

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