Monday, August 11, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi



Soft drinks: need to evolve India’s own safety standards

Barely had the controversy surrounding impure packaged drinking water subsided when independent tests carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) established that aerated soft drinks manufactured by leading multinational corporations contained toxic pesticide residue several times higher than the internationally accepted levels.

The MNCs have predictably trashed the CSE's claims, saying these are wild and baseless allegations, and that their standards for checking the purity level of their products are up to the global level. In one sense, ever since the CSE said in February this year that packaged drinking water contained high levels of pesticides and other chemicals, such a controversy was waiting to erupt. After all, soft drinks manufacturers across the country use the same raw material, water, from sources close to agricultural land. Farmers in India use pesticides and other chemicals intensively. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the government, the manufacturers and independent watchdog organisations to work in coordination and evolve a set of guidelines for determining fresh safety standards. The need is to settle the issue of the “permissible level” of contaminants in not just packaged drinking water and carbonated drinks, but all food products once and for all.

The mere mention of the word “pesticide” need not throw people into a frenzy, as is happening now; a certain amount of such residue is simply unavoidable. What needs to be checked is the stretching of the permissible limits by the soft drinks manufacturers. Also, is there not a simultaneous need to inform farmers about regulating the use of pesticides on agricultural land?


The use of the term “EU norms” with abandon too needs to be questioned. Indian tea, for instance, is not imported by European countries with the exception of the United Kingdom, for the reportedly high level of pesticides found in it. The same tea is imported by the US. If EU norms were to be applied in the country, then Indians would not be able to drink their own tea! The need, therefore, is for the government to evolve its own guidelines of what constitutes safety according to Indian standards. At the same time, MNCs too are known to violate safety norms. There has to be accountability. Else the government will have to intervene.

Sushil Girdher, Chandigarh


This refers to the editorial “Soft drinks or slow poison?”. The CSE asserts that Coca Cola, Pepsi and ten other cools have high level of toxic substances. It is true that it is slow poison. In February this year, the CSE had declared that bottled mineral water was unfit for drinking. Four months ago, a US organisation had warned that Indian water is contaminated.

In its earlier report on bottle water, the CSE had informed that water has contained DDT, Malathion and Chlorpyrifos. Soft drinks are also prepared from such water. It is good news that some schools, colleges and universities have banned soft drinks in their institutions. Even Parliament has dropped such cools away.

Water is not good for drinking. Milk is adulterated and these cools have pesticides. What should we drink is not known. The latest controversy warrants a thorough investigation.

M. L. Garg, Chandigarh


When we are consuming so much adulterated food stuff, toxic water, spurious drugs why to single out colas for having more pesticides? Continued adulteration has made us rather immune to such minuscule dose of pesticides in the colas — which in any case are drinks of the rich and the affluent. Possibly keeping in mind our body resistant, MNCs have been able to fight the price wars so successfully.

Of course, it is a good piece of investigation by the CSE. But should not they have been more concerned to check the killer urea milk causing grave health hazard to our children? Or should not the municipalities be checking the tea and fast food stalls on road sides operating in most unhygienic conditions?

Has any one really examined the quality of water supplied in towns? Yes, we must get colas which conform to the world standards but first priority should be to ensure that our daily use items such as water, milk, oils, medicines do not become health hazards as they now are. The question arises why colas only, but then why not?

Raghubir Singh, Pune


It is amazing how there are no prescribed safety norms and mandatory certification for soft drinks. If the CSE report is true, how much these drinks can affect adversely the whole body system staggers our imagination. Kids watch TV advertisements and force parents to buy soft drinks and junk food.

The manufacturing companies should adhere to global standards and uncompromising quality keeping in view the health of the people. Soft drinks have come to stay as part of our modern life. We expect the drink giants to maintain the highest possible safety standards.

Prof. K.L. Batra, Yamunanagar

Focus on human rights

The Punjab State Human Rights Commission (PSHRC) and The Tribune are doing a great service to the state and the nation by focusing concern on aspects of violation of human rights in the infamous case where two drunken cops of Punjab Police shot dead an 11-year old boy on August 1, 2003 (The Tribune, Aug 7). The PSHRC has intervened suo motu in the case and has made timely recommendations like increase in interim compensation by the Punjab government to the family of deceased and on payment of contributory offers in time, and asked for the details of the report of the case, etc.

The intervention of the PSHRC will secure justice effectively in the murder case. It would provide an impetus for investigations, etc. not just in the case alone but to various other cases as well. Apparently, there would be a better chance of setting things right without any delay. Apart from the promptness, the PSHRC has shown remarkable alertness and vigilance in the matter. It is hoped that the PSHRC will pursue this case to its logical conclusion.

Dr. Gurkirpal Singh, Ludhiana


Virtues of free trade

There are two cardinal mechanisms which have helped almost every rich nation to industrialise. The first is “infant industry protection” and the second is the purloin of intellectual property. History suggests that all the dominant nations achieved their industrial and technological superiority through one or both of these mechanisms. Only when they had established technological superiority in almost every aspect of manufacturing, did they suddenly discover the virtues of free trade. In other words, they did everything that the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF prohibit or discourage today.

The paradox lies in the fact that poor nations are today forbidden by trade rules to follow either of these routes to development. Their new industries are callously exposed to ruthless international competition and to further exacerbate the situation, “technology transfer” are forbidden and banned for them. Thus, it is crystal-clear that poor nations are being enslaved by free trade and forced into the position as suppliers of cheap labour and raw material to the rich world's companies.

Kameshwar Shergill, Chandigarh

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