Pepsi as safe as Bhutan’s mountain springs?

The issue of pesticide-contaminated Pepsi has gained a whole new angle in Sikkim with the company claiming through banners and print advertisements that their products in the state are brought in from Bhutan, where, according to the advertisements, the soft drink is produced with mountain spring water, hence completely removing the possibility of pesticide residue. However, the company's claims notwithstanding, sources here say that only the 300 ml “glass” bottles of Pepsi products available in Sikkim come from Bhutan. There rest, they say, are from Assam and West Bengal.
Far from the glare of the metropolitan media, Pepsi has announced from every nook and corner of Gangtok, the state capital, that the bottling plant of Drangchu Beverages in Bhutan uses “mountain spring water” and not “ground water”. However, sources in the market here point out, for example, that not many consumers are aware that only the 300 ml glass bottles of Pepsi products have come in from Drangchu Beverages. The ‘mobile’ Pepsi bottles and 1.5 litre bigger bottles of the entire Pepsi range come from bottling units in Charaktala in West Bengal and Rani in Assam. Neither of these two places can stake claim to having access to “mountain spring water” that makes the Drangchu products “safe”, as claimed by Pepsi, they point out. While the 250 ml glass bottles from Drangchu have been cleared by the government certified Vimta Laboratory of Hyderabad as having harmful elements below the detection level, it is widely believed that there is no such endorsement for the rest of the Pepsi range coming from West Bengal and Assam. Pepsi too has not made any attempt to prove otherwise.
Pepsi, however, denies allegations of foul play. "Nowhere in our advertisements have we implied that all Pepsi products, plastic bottles included, come from Drangchu,” said KK Mahapatra, assistant manager, sales, Drangtse Soft Drinks, the marketing wing of Drangchu beverages. “We have made it clear that only the 300 ml glass bottles are manufactured in Bhutan." The banners put up in Gangtok and Drangchu’s print-advertisements that have appeared in the North Eastern Weekend Review, a Gangtok paper, however, offer no such clarifications. Says the advertisement in the Review: "Pepsi, Mirinda and 7UP are bottled in Bhutan at Drangchu Beverages and supplied to Sikkim… with utmost confidence, we reiterate that there is no cause for concern. Pepsi, Mirinda and 7UP are safest amongst products of daily consumption including regular drinking water, milk, tea, fruit, vegetable etc. So don’t worry! Drink Pepsi! Your health is our concern”.
Pepsi' main distributor in Gangtok, Universal, meanwhile, has refused to comment on the issue, admitting, however, that only the 300ml Pepsi range comes from Bhutan. Even local retailers say that it was never made clear to them that only a select range came to Sikkim from Bhutan. "It was only when a guest asked specifically for Drangchu-bottled Pepsi that we realised that the plastic bottles do not come from Bhutan," said a local restaurant owner, speaking on conditions of anonymity. "The bills and challans mention only the quantities and not the place of manufacture."
Additionally, Pepsi’s claims that its range is the safest among products such as “regular drinking water, milk, tea, fruit, vegetables etc” have also irked the general public that feels that this has been done with a total disregard for local produce. They point out that while packaged milk or vegetables from outside Sikkim may have high contamination levels, there is still no finding suggesting the same for what is being produced locally in Sikkim.

By Pema Wangchuk (newsfiledelhi@sify.com)