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'Bottled' Contamination And a Brewing Battle

The rising temperature is a worldwide phenomenon, thanks to climatic changes, and what better way to beat the heat than to reach out for a carton of your favorite brand// of chilled soft drink. Indulging excessively on these fizzy fluids is a national past time among the ever-increasing band of the young, the not- so- young, the ‘couch-potatoes’ and the ‘socially-visible’. However, there is now a need to replace callousness with caution as the day of reckoning has finally arrived!

The Center for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based NGO, carrying out public- interest research, has once again cautioned millions of consumers on one of modernity’s gravest blunders - Coke. Their recent studies have decisively revealed that these drinks, which are the brand ambassadors of the West, are unsafe and unhealthy, rendering it totally unfit for consumption. Random- sample study has revealed that eleven soft drink brands of Coca-cola and Pepsi had alarmingly high quantities of pesticidal residues.

An earlier study, carried out on the same lines by the CSE, did manage to stir the nation’s conscience, but the warring giants Cola and Pepsi, joined hands to tackle the issue, and the confused consumers soon slipped into a somber reverie. Indifference prevailed as old habits die-hard. To an uncaring public, cocooned in complacency, the recent revelation comes as a bolt from the blue.

In the name of industrialization and economic growth, several factories have mushroomed in the scenic backdrops of rural India. Most of them, like the soft-drink factories, steadily pollute the environment and generally contribute to the health hazards of the endemic population. Besides exuding toxic wastes, which contaminate the ground water, these factories make use of impure water, lack the planning required for site-selection, are devoid of appropriate infrastructure, and are deprived of waste-management facilities.

In our country, ground water, w hich is the major source of drinking water to our teeming millions, is subject to contamination due to the extensive use of land for irrigation, industries and other human activities. Extensive usage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and unintelligent waste management have grave implications, some of them irreversible. Unacceptable levels of chemicals and toxins, such as arsenic, nitrates, mercury and lead, to name a few, have been reported in the ground water from various states. These toxins could cause severe physical impairments and mental deformities among the exposed population.

It is therefore imperative that we, as individuals and as global citizens, should bear in mind, that groundwater is an essential resource highly susceptible to contamination. The sensible solution to prevent contamination is by practicing ground water management effectively and by being incessantly vigilant.

Although mitigation through water quality monitoring by the government’s ‘watch-dogs’ is diligently being carried out, we lack the administrative platform to penalize the offenders. What has been shamefully alarming is that there are no standards set under the law in our country to monitor contamination in soft drinks or non-alcoholic beverages. This has had an impact in diminishing the effectiveness in enforcing norms.

So how have industries, such as these soft drink units, which have broken every rule, been allowed to survive in our country? Is it due to the indifference that we, as a nation, harbor towards human lives and sufferings? Is it due to our sympathetic tolerance towards perpetrators of offence? Is it perhaps due to our psyche, which thinks global but fails to act local? Is it an idealization of backwardness in the name of growth? Answers to these queries and appropriate actions are long overdue.

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