In what amounts to an indirect indictment of the union government, the Supreme Court yesterday quashed a criminal complaint filed against PepsiCo India by the Kerala government for allegedly selling soft drinks having excessive pesticide residue.
The apex court, while setting aside the Kerala high court ruling of August 2009, said the high court had failed to consider the implications of the failure of the centre to frame rules, and the mere presence of pesticide residue does not ipso facto render a food article adulterated. There is no standard set for pesticide residues in soft drinks under the 1954 Act and 1955 rules.
A three-judge bench of the apex court headed by justice Altamas Kabir said the central government's rules that came into effect from 17 June 2009 provide practically no margin for error or criteria for selection of laboratories, and prescription of tolerance limits for different food articles thus acquires great significance.
PepsiCo had contested state government's proceedings over the alleged adulteration of its soft drinks. The company argued that under the law existing at the time when the case was initiated, there was no provision governing pesticide adulteration in cold drinks.
The beverage industry has cheered the verdict of the Supreme Court in the PepsiCo versus Kerala government matter, saying they stand vindicated following the order which sets aside criminal proceedings initiated against the company.
A spokesperson for the Delhi-based Centre of Science and Environment (CSE) said Pepsi's stand was not incorrect since there were no standards for pesticide adulteration prescribed at that time. ''We are not directly involved in this matter,'' the spokesperson said. ''Our report was merely used by the Kerala government to arrive at its observations,'' he said.
A PepsiCo spokesperson said, ''PepsiCo has always been committed to ensuring world class quality of its products manufactured everywhere in the world and diligently follows all statutory and regulatory requirements. The verdict of is a reaffirmation of this commitment of ours.''