Published: Saturday 30 September 2006

Benzene in colas

I have been keenly following your reports on pesticide in colas (see 'The street fight', Down To Earth, August 15, 2006). I have an observation to make. Even as leading cola manufacturers are embroiled in the controversy about pesticide in soft drinks, there are reports that innocuous chemical benzoate salts added in soft drink as antimicrobial and vitamin C (ascorbic acid) or erythorbic acid, a related substance, can increase the formation of benzene if the cola bottles are not stored properly.

It is common to see that roadside dhabas and some restaurants store cola crates out in the open. In the us, the Food and Drug Administration has not put any limit on benzene in soft drinks but repeated tests have revealed that 2 ppb of benzene was detected in some samples. To mimic the conditions that can boost benzene formation, five samples were kept under fluorescent light at 32.2 c chamber for 3-4 weeks and the benzene level tested was was found to be between 7 ppb and 30 ppb.

It is therefore very important for cola manufacturers to ensure that vendors do not store the soft drink crates in the open, particularly in summer when the day temperature can be higher that the conditions mimicked by the fda, and thus, potentially harmful. The cola companies can be unwittingly culpable for higher benzene.


It's been three years, and the two us multinationals -- Coca Cola and PepsiCo Inc -- have done little to get rid of noxious chemicals and pesticides present in the soft drinks manufactured by them. Instead, they have manipulated Indian bureaucrats for their own personal benefits. We all have witnessed injustice in various forms around us, this is just one of the instances. Clearly, the 'third world' mindset still exists and therefore, India has become a convenient dumping ground for the developed countries.

Why hasn't the order by the Rajasthan High Court to reveal the contents present in Coca Cola and Pepsi been implemented? The system works in such a way that politicians end up as beneficiaries. And thus, the apathy continues.


Your efforts related to the findings on colas is indeed commendable. The impact is quite visible. Even school children are seen avoiding cola drinks. What I fail to understand is whether standardising and regulating adulteration of food products is going to be of any help to the common man?

Adulteration of food and beverages in this country has been the norm ever since. Regulation means more inspectors. In other words, more corruption. But we cannot be dumb spectators to the event either. Your efforts are more than welcome. In fact, all kinds of adulterations should be brought to light and given wide publicity as has been done in the case of colas. Besides, products that are of standard quality, must also be given publicity. This might initiate a competition between manufacturers, particularly of soft drinks and fruit juices.

2, Improvement Trust Flat, Havelock Road, Lucknow

Having read the issue of colas in detail, I have been wondering about two things. One, since pesticides are (obviously) in water, it would be a better idea to spend your resources on cleaning up the water supply instead of concentrating on the users of the water? Also, an investigation into whether or<>

Out of the box approach

This is in response to 'Heavy cotton' (Down To Earth, August 15, 2006).There is no dearth of 'thinking people' in our society. But farmers continue to be poor and are killing themselves. The situation is alarming and needs to be tackled through out-of-the-box concepts and ideas.

We must understand that while science is universal, technology and engineering should be dictated by local needs. Technologies and engineering practices of the west, which are suited to their local environment, is not an answer to our local needs. We need to redefine our ideas and concepts of agriculture, based on renewable organic material resources.


Who makes the money?

This is in response to 'The poor? They are the government's problem' (Down To Earth, April 15, 2006). According to me, the question is not whether we should make money from trees, or who ends up making money. The real question is, who puts in money for so long?

Wastelands in India have been severely degraded. With limited soil depth, the bottlenecks are huge investments for irrigation, soil replacement and maintenance for plantation activities. The employment potential that these activities have is immense and would be quite helpful in taking forward objectives of employment generation activities under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and other programmes. I also have reservations about the views expressed in the letter 'Forest is not timber' (Down To Earth, May 15, 2006). What is up for grabs is not forests but wastelands and/or degraded forests. The need is therefore not to preserve but to develop and maintain (not at present level but at optimal level) their productivity so that conservation and sustainable livelihoods issues can be simultaneously addressed.

Therefore, it is an important initiative and there is a need for various stakeholders to join hands (similar suggestions have been given by National forestry commission under recommendations 103 and 319) before irreparable damage is done to our natural resources.



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Pick of the postbag

Infrastructure, plans needed for urban development
This is in response to the cover story on urban renewal mission ('Urban myths', Down To Earth , August 31, 2006). As one of the authors of the 1968 National Capital Regional Plan and an urban and transportation planner, I read the story with interest. Although it may sound trite, it is true that India still faces a population growth problem that compounds the rural-to-urban migration -- the main cause of India's urban failure. Until both population management and better prospects for villagers are found, large cities will continue to collapse under the weight of their very successes.

For transport, it is important that India works to free itself from its petroleum dependence. In the us, we are already planning for much reduced auto usage as world supplies tighten and the price of oil rises. Urban renewal should be about people first and foremost -- education, employment, safe and decent housing. Any programme that focuses on the needs of the well-to-do only will eventually fail and brutal slum clearance schemes will not change this.

India will need to invest in building its basic human infrastructure and supporting systems. We in the us must now find how to invest in rebuilding our infrastructure. In both nations, the savings rate is substantially less than is required to meet the needs of people. But a society that partially educates its poor, then leaves them to fend for themselves in a market that is fixed against them will find it very difficult to bridge the gap between their aspirations and their achievements. This is the root cause of so much of violence the world is facing today. Please keep up the dialogue. India must find a way to avoid the trap.




These days the New Delhi Municipal Corporation is replacing road culverts rampantly. The old culverts, made of heavy stone, have served for more than 50 years, whereas the new culverts are made of cement only. The new culverts will not last for more than 2-3 years.

Besides, they require a lot of maintenance.

The practice is rampant along the Mother Teresa road, Shanti Path, in front of the RML hospital and all major roads across Delhi. Contractors take away truckload of stones. It is possible that there is a nexus between contractors and municipal officials.


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