इंडियन आवाज़     25 Feb 2024 04:15:15      انڈین آواز
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Maggi row: Contamination in food items not new to India

By Nirendra Dev

Amid hyped row over Maggi noodles, consumer activists and even political leaders say the contamination in food items is not a new phenomenon in India as similar controversy had affected major consumer items like Coke, Pepsi cold drinks and also Cadbury chocolates and milk in the past.

The Health Ministry under UPA-I had ‘ignored’ Sharad Pawar-led JPC report on Coke, Pepsi…instead had “decided to seek a second opinion from a committee of government officers”. The then Health Minister and PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss had allegedly tried to “pass the buck to either Water Resources or Environment ministry”.

food itemAmid hyped row over Maggi noodles, consumer activists and even BJP  leaders say the contamination in food items is not a new phenomenon in India as similar controversy had affected major consumer items like Coke, Pepsi cold drinks and also Cadbury chocolates and milk in the past.
FDA Maharashtra had stuck against chocolate brand in Mumbai and parts of Maharashtra in 2003.

However, what is vital today is to ask why did Maggi trouble surface yet again?

One safe and sound observation is “ignoring” the strong recommendations of the 15-member JPC, headed by NCP stalwart Sharad Pawar on cold drinks about a decade back was “blunder”. The JPC headed by Pawar was constituted during the erstwhile Vajpayee government when the controversy on Coke and Pepsi had broken. The present External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who was Health Minister under PM Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2003, had initiated steps to set up a JPC to be headed by NCP leader Pawar.

In fact, Sushma had announced that because the controversy on cola drinks were serious and linked to people’s ‘habits’, an opposition member should head the JPC.

But thanks to PM Dr Manmohan Singh regime.

The panel headed by Pawar even had worked hard and produced a good report. The JPC’s crucial suggestion about fixing stringent standards for carbonated beverages was not implemented. JPC recommendation to seek complete freedom from pesticide residues in sweetened aerated water was also ignored.

This was perhaps a blunder cannot be simply attributed to human lapses. There is a cloud about such moves as both BJP and the CPI-M had charged the then UPA-I regime with being ‘motivated’ and ‘influenced’ by external forces.

The Health Ministry under UPA-I had ‘ignored’ the JPC report and instead had “decided to seek a second opinion from a committee of government officers”.  The matter was referred to the National Level Expert Group to guide Pesticide Residues Sub-Committee of  Central Committee for Food Standards (CFS).

In fact, the Action Taken Report of the union Health Ministry when presentedin Parliament on December 9 (2005) had sparked off “much debate” both within both the Houses in Parliament and also outside.
A BJP leader claimed that in fact the Health Minister then under PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss had allegedly tried to “pass the buck to either Water Resources or Environment ministry”.

Such was efficiency of UPA regime where ‘Saint Sonia’s’ words sounded Biblical and Rahul Gandhi, a young conscience keeper of the nation and above all Honest PM Manmohan Singh that the ATR by Health Ministry tried to dismiss the JPC comments on controlling pesticides in the sugar industry and sought to pass on the buck to Agriculture ministry then incidentally being held by none other than Sharad Pawar himself.

Among other things, the Pawar-led JPC had also suggested for monitoring of effluents from the Coke factories
at Palakkad and Plachimada. This was also hardly followed.

Ironically, in 2006 again the controversy on Coke and Pepsi had resurfaced and the UPA government was again under attack including from its supporting parties like the CPI-M.

In Lok Sabha, Mohammad Salim, (CPI-M) MP, had claimed the Manmohan Singh government “inaction” against soft drink brands even three years after a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) headed by Pawar submitted its report could only be explained by its “collusion”.

The charge was, however, denied by the then Parliamentary Affairs Minister P R Dasmunshi.

While the debate in Lok Sabha had turned emotive with a few members dubbing the episode as a  “cultural invasion”, others lamented that television commercials promoting branded cold drinks were mostly misleading.

(Nirendra Dev is Spl. Representative with The Statesman, New Delhi)

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