The cola bubble has burst in Bengal. A report of the water investigation department of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government says the soft drinks contain high amounts of arsenic, never mind the clean chit issued by Left Front chairman Biman Bose and the CM only two days ago.
That’s not all. The study by the State Water Investigation Directorate (SWID) found levels of the highly carcinogenic Lindane, the neurotoxic chorpyriphos and heptachlor much above permissible limits, highly placed sources told the HT.
The report was presented to the chief minister on Friday. Even as Coke and Pepsi launched a major publicity offensive in the state, water investigation minister Nandagopal Bhattacharya—he refused to divulge the findings of the report in public---demanded an immediate ban on the cola products. “As a cabinet minister I can’t divulge these details. Only the chief minister can do so. But I feel these products should be immediately banned,” he said.
The minister also informed the chief minister that the cola companies had refused to part with samples of their products when SWID officials visited their factories. “We had to collect the samples from the market and test them,” he told the chief minister. Hours after Nandagopal submitted the SWID report to the chief minister, his party, the CPI held a press conference demanding that the Bengal government should emulate the Left government in Kerala and ban the cola products.
The sudden hardening of stance has caught the CPM off-guard. Central committee member Benoy Konar said the government would act if the tests proved high pesticide content. “Preliminary tests have not shown alarming presence of pesticides. If the final report shows otherwise, we will have to do something,” he said.
Though the chief minister refused to comment on the issue, Coke and Pepsi heaped praise on the government for not taking any “whimsical” steps like imposing a ban on the products as had been done by the Kerala government. At a press conference here, Coke and Pepsi blasted the CSE, claiming its reports of presence of pesticide in soft drinks was “totally false”.