High Court Rules "Commercial Interests are Subservient to Fundamental Rights" in Coca-Cola Appeal
November 4, 2004
New Delhi: Rajasthan High Court yesterday dismissed a review petition
of soft drink companies against its directive to them to list contents
of their products.
Chief Justice Anil Dev Singh and Justice K.S. Rathore had directed
“the respondent companies, namely PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, and all other
manufacturers of carbonated beverages and soft drinks, to disclose
the composition and contents of the products, including the presence,
if any, of pesticides and chemicals, on the bottle, package or container,
as the case may be”. They were asked to comply with the order within
The order of October 8 had come in response to a public interest litigation
filed by advocate Swati Bhati in March 2003 on behalf of the Youth
Welfare Society, Jaipur.
Yesterday, a division bench of Justices S.K. Keshote and K.S. Rathore
rejected the arguments of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo against the October
“The companies,” Bhati said, “will have to comply with the orders
with immediate effect. The cola companies had filed an application
that implementation be delayed by two months. But the court rejected
On behalf of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, respectively, former Union law
minister Arun Jaitley and senior advocate Iqbal Chhagla had challenged
the order on the ground that it would force their clients to compromise
with their “commercial confidentiality”.
Passing such directives, they argued, was in the domain of the legislature
and the executive, not the court.
The advocates further argued that since their products were bottled
at different places, it was not feasible to fulfil the court directive
as pesticide content in water varied from place to place.
The high court noted that “both the counsel for Coca-Cola and PepsiCo
submitted that small traces of DDT and other pesticides are not harmful
to the health of the consumers”.
While issuing the judgment, the court had deliberated on the presence
of pesticides in soft drinks based on a study by the Centre for Science
and Environment and the findings of the joint parliamentary committee
that was set up to investigate the issue.
The advocates told the court that the directive was against Article
14 of the Constitution — which ensures equality before law — as it
bound only the manufacturers of beverages and not foodstuff makers.
Such directives, they argued, could not be given to private parties
under Article 226 of the Constitution. The order, Jaitley and Chhagla
said, was in a way directed at their clients alone as Coke and Pepsi
covered a major chunk of the soft drink business.
Earlier, the court had said that according to Article 19 (I) (A),
people have the right to know about the product they are buying and
“In case such a disclosure is made, there would be panic in the market
and the business will dwindle,” the companies argued and added that
Article 19 provided freedom of expression, not right to information.
The court said: “Commercial interests are subservient to fundamental
The cola companies may approach the Supreme Court within a month.
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