Quit India, activists tell Coke, Pepsi

US beverage giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi were on Thursday told to quit India as activists stepped up a "break bottle" campaign after a study said their soft drinks contained lethal doses of pesticides.

    Coke, Pepsi on the defensive

    Activists from powerful political groups such as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Samajwadi Party smashed Coke and Pepsi bottles. They trampled on cardboard cups bearing their logos outside Mumbai's busy Churchgate railway station.


    "Coke and Pepsi quit India. You are playing with our lives," shouted a mob of nearly 100 activists, who also forced Coke and Pepsi outlets in and around the station to down shutters.


    Posters torn


    The activists tore down posters of various Bollywood stars such as Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor who advertise the two brands.


    "The two multinationals have to get out of India. We are giving them 10 days by which time final test reports of these drinks will come," said Aslam Sheikh, president of the youth wing of the Samajwadi party.


    "If the reports are positive for pesticides we will break every bottle the companies make. We will burn down their vehicles carrying these drinks on the roads."


    The parliament in New Delhi on Wednesday took the two beverages off MPs' canteen menu following the release of a damaging report the day before by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based greens group.


    "If the reports are positive for pesticides we will break every bottle the companies make. We will burn down their vehicles carrying these drinks on the roads."


    Aslam Sheikh, Samajwadi Party youth wing chief

    The CSE report claimed 12 leading drinks marketed in India by Coca-Cola and Pepsi had a "deadly cocktail of pesticide residues" not found in their beverages in the United States.


    The beverage giants, which dominate India's 270-million-case a year carbonated drinks market, have vehemently denied the charges.


    Coca-Cola has also come under fire for allegedly giving contaminated waste as "organic fertiliser" to Indian farmers in the southern state of Kerala.


    A study by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (PCB) released on Wednesday said there were high levels of cadmium in the sludge, with 201.08 milligrams per kilogram. The permissible World Health Organisation (WHO) limit is 50 milligrams per kilogram.  Coca-Cola denies the charge.


    Turbulent history


    This is not the first time the two multinationals have faced rough weather in India.


    Last September, the Supreme Court pulled them up for defacing the picturesque Rohtang mountain pass in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh with numerous advertisements and billboards, causing environmental damage.


    In the 1970s Coke was kicked out of India under an aggressive nationwide protest led by then trade union leader George Fernandes, who is now India's defence minister.


    The two companies returned to India in the early 1990s after a series of economic reforms introduced by the then Congress government.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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