Banning Pepsi and Coke in Tamil Nadu – the full story

My editor asked me to scour for new article and minutes later I saw this headline about the ban on Pepsi and Coke (BBC News – Asia) along with few others.

Traders in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have banned the sale of Coca-Cola and Pepsi in favour of local products.

The ban, which was proposed by the state’s top two associations of traders, came into effect on Wednesday (March 1st 2017).

It was around 2:00 AM in the morning, when I saw my editor’s message to continue with this article.

The moment I started researching for this article, it was pretty obvious that I have to take sides. That’s when I decided to have a cup of Green Tea and started thinking about my past.

Cut to 2006, I was studying 6th at that time. I came to Madurai for summer vaccation and stayed there for like 2 weeks at my aunt’s house in K.K Nagar. She used to have a shop below and I used to spend most of my time there, just because it had a computer. That’s when, I was introduced to ‘Badam Milk’, ‘RoseMilk’ and ‘Jigarthanda’. 250 ml bottles were stocked inside the fridge and people frequently used to come on a hot sunny day and get a gulp. Sales would usually go high during evenings- thanks to students, staffs and parents from a nearby school.

In 2008, I was studying at Madurai and my school took us for an industrial visit to the manufacturing plant of Badam Milk and Rose Milk. The guy, who was explaining all machinery and stuffs, was saying that there had been significant decrease in the sales.

Fast Forward to 2011.

I came back to Madurai to get my 10th std certificates. I was searching all the streets I know, just for that bottled Badam Milk. I couldn’t find any. Not even in my aunt’s shop.

2012 – I was introduced to Pepsi and Coke, thanks to McDonalds. Later, I became a frequent consumer of Mountain Dew during 2014-15, to a point that I used to drink 600ml daily along with 2 Lays packets. Since then, even though I have reduced the consumption to once in a week, every time I see those bottles lined up in the fridge at mess, I have a tendency to buy one.

Back in November 2015, I wrote an article insisting to save Thamirabarani River from Tamilnadu Government selling it to Pepsi. That seems to be one of the reasons now.

TNVSP secretary K Mohan explained the rationale behind this boycott. “The decision was taken to wean the youth away from MNC soft drinks, which are killing domestic companies. Besides this, these foreign firms are also using up scarce water resources at a time of unprecedented drought.”

Let’s clear few things up.

First, it’s not an overnight ban like Maggi but boycott. Mohan, on the other hand, calls it more like an appeal to TN youth. Second the boycott was announced by two associations of traders Tamil Nadu Vanigar Sangangalin Peramaippu (TNVSP) (or Tamil Nadu Traders Associations Forum (TNTAF)) and the Federation of Tamil Nadu Traders Associations (FTNTA).

Coming back to the rationale, the very first question one might ask is ‘Wouldn’t the local companies drain up the ground water and rivers?’. May be so. But then I remembered an interim stay on the supply of water to the tune of 15 lakh litres per day to PepsiCo’s Aquafina water purification plant and 9 lakh litres per day to Coca-Cola’s bottling plant at Gangaikondan in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district issued by the Madurai bench of the Madras High court. A major development in this issue came yesterday on March 2, 2016, when Madras High Court overruled the stay and allowed the giants to take water from Thamirabarani river.

I am purposefully not going to arguments like “Why ban Pepsi and Coke alone? Ban i-phone, Samsung, Nike, etc…”. I personally feel those arguments are kiddish.

The next argument was by A.M Vikram Raja president of TNTAF. “About 70% of the traders have decided to boycott the sales of Pepsi and Coke from today onwards for their toxic nature.”

Indian Beverages Association quotes, “the products manufactured by Coca-Cola and Pepsi are of global standards and one of the safest available.” It also cites Supreme Court order of 2013, which had reportedly quoted an FSSAI panel’s submission that ingredients present in aerated beverages do not pose any health hazard.

IBA’s press release also states that, “Hindustan Coca Cola and PepsiCo India are local companies registered in the country, and comply with all applicable rules and regulations.” and also added, “Coca-Cola and PepsiCo India together provide direct employment to 2,000 families in Tamil Nadu and more than 5,000 families indirectly, through their extensive supply chain. They also play a critical role in improving the livelihood of over 2 lakh retailers, who earn more than Rs. 400 crores in income by selling products manufactured by the two companies. The companies also sustain the interests of thousands of Tamil farmers, by procuring agri-produce.”

This is exactly where I was stuck in choosing sides. I know that those drink contains ‘No fruit’ and have a high artificial sugar content. I know that there are manufacturing sites of these products in India. (Two in Tamilnadu). A short-term dip in profits would be there. And those products are not going away from Tamilnadu overnight. Infact, many traders in Chennai and other cities, especially national and international retail and food chains like Reliance Fresh and Dominos are not going to remove them. Vikram Raja assured optimistically that this will be settled soon. He said, “Their initial response is encouraging. They only want some time to work out the boycott plan.”

IBA argues that the boycott violates the consumer’s “right to choose” and also adds, “This call is against the proven fundamentals of robust economic growth, and against the clarion call of ‘Make in India’.” The companies, on the other hand, hadn’t commented on the boycott.

Meanwhile, I heard that most of the shops are displaying “No Pepsi, No Coke” Posters. Like the Pro – Jallikattu movement in Jan 2017, something big has started. Problem is we don’t have enough facts to support the cause and prove IBA wrong, or I might haven’t dug deeper. But things are changing. I could see many youths in their Facebook statuses pledging and vowing not to drink Pepsi and Coke. I know I can’t trust those statuses, but Jallikattu proved me wrong. Hope it proves me wrong again. Hope I could see those bottled badam milk again. And I pledge to boycott Pepsi and Coke products.

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