Court Decision to Quash State Ban on Coca-Cola and Pepsi Questioned

"Issue Far From Over, State Challenging High Court Order"

For Immediate Release
September 22, 2006

R. Ajayan, Plachimada Solidarity Committee +91 98471 42513 (India)
Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center +1 415 336 7584 (US) E: info(AT)IndiaResource.org

Thiruvanthapuram, India (September 22, 2006): Groups in India are questioning a High Court order which overturned the state government ban on the sale and production of Coca-Cola and Pepsico products in the south Indian state of Kerala today.

In an order issued by a division bench comprising Chief Justice V. K Bali and Justice M. Ramachandran, the Kerala High Court ruled that the state government had no power under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (PFA) to ban food products. The court did not examine whether the soft drinks contained pesticides.

The complete ban on the sale and production of Coca-Cola and Pepsico in the state of Kerala was the most comprehensive action by any state in India. The ban came after studies by the Centre for Science and Environment in August 2006 which showed that the soft drinks contained extremely high levels of pesticides.

Noting that the High Court has reversed the ban on a technicality, the Centre for Science and Environment said that "nothing has changed. Soft drinks are unsafe as before."

"It should be noted that six other states in India still have restrictions on the sale of Coca-Cola and Pespsi, and that the state government of Karnataka is suing both Coca-Cola and Pepsico for causing harm to public health. They did so after their own tests confirmed the dangerously high levels of pesticides. This issue is far from over," said R. Ajayan of the Plachimada Solidarity Committee, a statewide coalition in Kerala campaigning against Coca-Cola and Pepsico.

"The High Court decision is a major setback for consumers in India," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center, an international campaigning organization. "Until there is complete confidence that these products are safe for consumers, the government must exercise the precautionary principle and not allow the sale and production of such products. The courts decision is premature."

The state government of Kerala will be appealing the court's ruling. "The court's verdict quashing the Kerala government's order is unfortunate and the government is exploring legal steps to take corrective measures to reinforce the ban," said Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan.

The Coca-Cola bottling plant in Kerala has remained shut down since March 2004 because of the community-led campaign accusing the bottling plant of creating severe water shortages and pollution. The newly formed government in Keral has been a major supporter of the community campaign demanding the permanent closure of the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Kerala.

"In spite of today's order, the Coca-Cola plant can never operate in Kerala because it is in flagrant violation of the laws in India," said C.R. Bijoy of the People's Union for Civil Liberties.

The State Pollution Control Board of Kerala had ordered the Coca-Cola bottling plant to "stop production of all kinds of products with immediate effect" in August 2005 because of excessive levels of heavy metals, including lead and cadmium, being found around the plant's premises.

The state government of Kerala has also joined the community campaign in challenging the Coca-Cola company's right to extract water. The state government has argued to the Supreme Court that water is being taken from poor communities to produce drinking water for the rich.

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