Why are we being fed with increasing amounts of neurotoxins in our diet, in the name of processed foods, when the rest of the world is moving away from them? Pepsi and Coke will actually share the World Cup win on Saturday, as India and Sri Lanka fight for the crumbs
As we head in for the finals of the World Cup 2011, it is increasingly becoming apparent that the game is not just between India and Sri Lanka, but largely between Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola. This in itself would not have been a problem, sports need sponsors, and cricket has always had a long list of entities waiting to pay the bill.
How many of us can forget the fact that Benson & Hedges were the original sponsors here, and subsequently for some time Wills paid some of the bills too, until globally tobacco companies were prevented by law from sponsoring sports. The rest of the world had by then banned tobacco advertising in sports, but India was amongst the last bastions to fall, and given half a chance, subliminal and crony as well as covert advertising for tobacco products still continues- awards for bravery, for example, as well as ranges in clothing and soaps being a common subterfuge.
But face facts, smoking is increasingly becoming socially unacceptable in India, and about time too.
How long before this good sense reaches those who make and implement our laws, as far as carbonated coloured sweetened beverages using chemicals for constituents which are certainly not good for our health are concerned? To ban fizzy colas/orange/lemon and clear flavoured bottled & fountain served waters with bubbles in them (also called "soft drinks") in India? By rights, this is overdue, and should have happened yesterday, as is already happening in the developed countries we look up to in so many other ways. If it has not, then it is simply because the machinery that propels this momentum forward is huge, and comprises of not just the manufacturers but also their advertising companies, their PR companies, their bought out medical associations, and the whole nine yards as far as the rest of them are concerned, anybody who would dare to try and stand up against them.
Except some of us, who seek information for the larger public good, and when faced with impediments-sink our teeth in even deeper. And therein lies a tale which shall evolve with time.
Experience has taught many of us that when those in power take extremely hyperactive steps to hide information, then it becomes all the more important to try and find out what they are hiding, since if this information was not likely to cause any problems to the larger good-then why would they want to hide the truth? To give a simple example, when I asked a simple question relating to the Commonwealth Games way back in early 2006, on how much did they actually spend on taking some actors and dancers to Melbourne, and got stonewalled at every step- that's when I realised that there was probably something hidden which was causing the people who took the effort to hide it some concern-so it was worth going after it.
That's what got the nation this judgement: http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/465885/
Which subsequently opened the door for the accounts and numbers, as well as skeletons and scams, to come tumbling out in what is known as the "CWG scam".
The word being sought, if I remember my school maths correctly, is and was "fulcrum". And now with the help of Moneylife as well as others, I seek the fulcrum that will help me bust the great Coke & Pepsi game in India, which also goes by the names Aspartame, NutriSweet and Equal, amongst others.
If you have seen working terriers chasing small animals you will realise the whole concept-they don't want to eat that animal, they just want to know what that animal is up to-and if it appears to be damaging things, like rats and other animals do, then to get it out of the way. Sometimes they want to scare it so that it heads into a trap. Or moves out of its safe spot. Let's go back to these terriers. I quote an example: "Working terriers (Hunting types): Still used to find, track, or trail quarry, especially underground, and sometimes to bolt the quarry."
In other words, just the fact that somebody has started sniffing around is enough to push them to react. If we want to reach something, then we have to not just sniff it out-we have to be like terriers.
Which is what is happening as I start a new search and hunt for how this amazing drug, called "aspartame", has entered India's statutes as a sweetener instead of as a neurotoxin, and has started replacing real and simple sugar in everything from "soft drinks" to sweetmeats, biscuits, bakery products and even traditional products like halwa. All in the name of lower cost and higher sweetness. While trying to convince us that there is no difference.
But there is a big difference. Sugar in its various natural forms simply makes things sweeter, for natural or other reasons, and doesn't cause much harm beyond causing the obvious side effects of consuming too much sweet-which we already know about. Aspartame, on the other hand, even in extremely minute quantities, well below the levels found in a single can of Coke or Pepsi, diet or otherwise, is known to cause not just common ailments like headaches, dizziness, slurred speech and confusion. On the larger scale, however, it causes a vast variety of serious diseases-not the least of which are some forms of cancer, as well as serious issues for pregnant women, babies, chronic fatigue syndrome and brain damage as well as tumours therein.
As a matter of simple fact, a large number of Gulf War returnees (from the Kuwait-Iraq conflict) were diagnosed as having suffered from major neurological disorders, traced directly back to consuming litres and litres of "diet" soft drinks which had, before that, been transported and then lying in the hot conditions of the desert.
It is interesting to note that the summer is when the push to sell more cold drinks is highest in India. And that's also when truckloads of the stuff roll across, with the "soft drinks" undergoing a fair amount of exposure to extremely hot weather, which incidentally is one more issue with aspartame. You see, as temperature changes, aspartame changes its chemical composition, radically. So, that, as well as a few other reasons prompted me to file a fairly simple RTI (Right to Information) Application to the Ministry of Processed Foods in Delhi. Again, very close to where I live, walking distance actually.
Within a few days of my filing an RTI application with the Ministry of Processed Foods here in Delhi, even before I've got a formal response from them, I have received:
1) Phone calls from a PR company claiming to represent a company making a diet soft drink, lately advertising a lot as "University of this and that".
2) Veiled threats on social media from unknown entities whose pages on carbonated waters I have joined and commented on.
3) The usual bunch of evasive non-RTI type responses from the Ministry which are designed to deflect all but the most hardcore of RTI applicants.
4) And most interestingly, a huge collection of unasked for literature on the benefits of aspartame, AND a hamper full of soft drinks as a gift from somebody who did not leave a visiting card.
Aspartame started life as a new chemical warfare agent developed and used by the United States Armed Forces. It is apparently now an agent for infiltrating the Indian food chain. My series of RTI applications with the Government of India is going to try to find out how something like this became a legalised food component.
Meanwhile, it would be interesting to start getting certification from our halwais and bakeries on whether they use sugar or aspartame or other branded sweeteners that are actually carcinogenic chemicals, since we already knows what goes into our Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, Diet and otherwise. It would also be interesting to ask our cricketers and others who endorse these soft drinks on what their families and children drink. I know-I once had this discussion with Kapil Dev, in the days when he used to endorse Thums Up-and he hasn't endorsed a cold drink since.
Central Information Commission gives directive on an RTI query by an applicant who was directed to individual ministries
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has said that information relating to air travel by union ministers-both domestic and international-should be maintained centrally by the cabinet secretariat.
The CIC made this observation on a Right to Information query by Delhi-based resident Subhash Chandra Agrawal, seeking information concerning air travel by Union ministers in the last three years.
The CIC said, "While we tend to agree with the submissions made by the respondents, we think that it would be in the interest of transparency if some key information about domestic and international travel by Union ministers could be maintained centrally in the cabinet secretariat itself, especially since the pay and accounts office under it is responsible for all accounting details for payment of the salary and reimbursement of their travel expenditure."
"We direct the central public information officer (CPIO) to bring this to the notice of the competent authority in the cabinet secretariat for appropriate action," the CIC said.
While hearing the matter, the respondents had clarified that "the desired information was not maintained in the form in which it had been sought and that a very large volume of records and documents would have to be scrutinised in order to collate the information and that would disproportionately divert the resources of the public authority."
Instead, it was argued that "the appellant could approach individual ministries and departments for the desired information, since travel details including the expenditure incurred on both domestic and international travel of ministers of the union government were available only with the respective ministry or department and not with the cabinet secretariat."
The CPIO had earlier informed Mr Agrawal that the information which he was seeking was spread across a number of ministries and departments of the central government and further, that he could seek the desired information from the respective CIPO. This decision was also endorsed by the appellate authority.
Speaking to Moneylife, Mr Agrawal said, "It is a well thought decision. Otherwise, such voluminous information couldn't be available. If they develop a software and put all these details on their website, anyone will be in a position to access it and thus there will be more transparency."
TDSAT's direction came over a batch of petitions filed by various telcos challenging the demand for crores of rupees as Liquidated Damages (LD) for their failure to roll-out their obligation within the stipulated period
New Delhi: The Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) today directed the Department of Telecom (DoT) to file a reply within ten days to the challenge raised by telcos over penalties imposed by the DoT for their failure to roll-out their services within the stipulated period of one year.
A Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) bench, headed by its chairman Justice SB Sinha, while directing the DoT to file its reply within ten days, also directed various telcos to file their rejoinder within ten days thereafter.
TDSAT's direction came over a batch of petitions filed by various telcos challenging the demand for crores of rupees as Liquidated Damages (LD) for their failure to roll-out their obligation within the stipulated period.
The TDSAT listed the matter for further hearing on 2nd May 2011.
The DoT has requested to keep the matter sine die as the cases relating to the second generation (2G) scam is pending before the Supreme Court.
Earlier, in its interim order, TDSAT had directed the telcos to pay 60% of the LD demanded by the DoT.
Various telcos had already paid LD charges for some circles before coming to the tribunal challenging the penalty imposed by the DoT.
The demand of penalty by DoT was opposed by various telcos, including Uninor, Videocon Telecommunications, Sistema Shyam Teleservices, S Tel, Aircel, Dishnet Wireless and Idea Cellular.
The DoT had sent notices to several firms, which got new 2G licences bundled with start-up spectrum, but have not started offering services in various circles.
As per the conditions of the Unified Access Service Licences (UASL), the telcos are required to roll out their networks within a year from the date of allocation of spectrum.
According to the agreement, in case new licencees fail to roll out services within the stipulated period, the DoT shall be entitled to recover liquidated damages.