The ongoing cola war in India is not the famous battle between the global soft drink giants for outsmarting each other for the domination of the market. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have joined forces in India to fight the public, the press, politicians, state governments and the judiciary.

The two want to challenge the allegation that their soft drinks contain harmful levels of pesticides. They want to prove to all concerned that the testing and quality control procedures for their products follow stringent global standards.

“The Coke you drink in India would be as clean as the Coke you get in Paris,” Coca-Cola Asia group communications director Kenth Kaerhoeg said.

A report published recently by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, observed that their tests on samples of soft drinks made by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo contained “cocktail of three to five pesticides” exceeding 24 to 140 times the norms set by the Bureau of Indian Standards. They had tested 57 samples from 25 different plants of the two companies.

The report has kicked up a storm of protest which has resulted in six state governments banning Coca -Cola and PepsiCo products in and around Govt buildings and Govt funded schools. The state of kerala has imposed a total ban. The Supreme Court of India has ordered Coca-Cola to divulge its secret formula to Govt investigators.

Though the per capita consumption of carbonated drinks in India is among the lowest in the world, it’s a $ 2 billion market and the two soft drink giants have cornered 80-90% of it.

Can they afford to loose that market lead in a nation of 1 billion plus people?

Links: BusinessWeek Online, Asia Times Online, Time Asia Edition.

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