Dead insects in Fanta; Hindustan Coca-Cola to pay

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission of India has dismissed an appeal by Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, a part of The Coca-Cola Company’s Bottling Investments Group, against an order by a lower court awarding compensation to customer who found dead insects floating inside a Fanta bottle.

Asking for relief, Hindustan Coca-Cola said there was no proof that the Fanta bottle was actually manufactured by them. It argued that the bottle was spurious.

“They contended that there is no evidence that the said bottle was actually manufactured by them,” said NCDRC, the country’s top consumer court, paraphrasing the argument. “They (Hindustan Coca-Cola and distributors) further contended that the product is spurious and that their Bottling Plant is of latest technology with high standard of hygiene and there is no question of any insect entering into the bottle. The bottles are sold after conducting a number of tests.”

However, the Court comprising Justic JM Malik and Dr SM Kantikar, pointed out that the company did not provide any evidence that the bottle was indeed spurious, and did not give a batch sample to the laboratory that was testing the bottle for authenticity.

“The visual examination of bottle shows one large Insect (approximately sized 10mm) floating on top of the bottle; two small insects and several insects Body parts are suspended in the fluid,” Choksi Laboratories Ltd said in its report.

A laboratory report was also sought on the authenticity of the bottle. In the report, the laboratory said that some of the features of the bottle in question were different from a Fanta bottle that was purchased from the market. However, to be sure, the laboratory would need bottle samples from the batch code printed on the bottle.

“It is, therefore, indeterminable that the bottle is indeed the same as that of the manufacturer or not unless a control sample is provided by the manufacturer from the same batch,” it said.

The court faulted Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages for not cooperating with the laboratory investigation and upheld the compensation of Rs 10,000 in favor of original complainant Purushottam Gaur of Indore.

The “onus of proof shifts on to the opposite parties (Hindustan Coca-Cola and distributors) after the receipt of the report from the Laboratory,” NCDRC said in its final order.

“They did not raise any objection. They did not try to help the Laboratory personnel. They did not even answer the questions posed by the Incharge of the Laboratory and did not provide any assistance to the Laboratory personnel. Mere saying that OP4 [opposite party 4, the shopkeeper] has no connection with them, is not enough. They should have made an enquiry as to why this bottle was sold by OP4. OP4 could have given the answer from where he had purchased this bottle. No efforts were made by OPs 1 to 3 (Hindustan Coca-Cola and distributors) regarding the origin of that bottle. Prima facie, it appears that this bottle belongs to OPs 1 to 3.

“They have failed to rebut the evidence against them. They must find out as to who is copying their bottle. The control sample was never provided by the OPs to the Laboratory Incharge. The manufacturer could not help as to where the bottle had been opened and re-packed with a new cap. The OPs could have appointed their own Expert to find out, whether, the bottle in question, belonged to them or not?.

“The question is, who could manufacture the bottles on behalf of OPs 1 to 3. Such like incidences, come to light, immediately. The petitioner is conspicuously silent about the same. The silence on their part is pernicious. The case against OPs 1 to3 stands proved. The revision petition (by Hindustan Coca-Cola and distributors), being without merit, is hereby dismissed,” the Court ordered.