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Last Updated: Friday, 22 September 2006, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Pepsi and Coke in India victory
Protests against Coca Cola drinks in Delhi
An anti-Coke protest in Delhi
The world's biggest cola companies have won their legal battle to overturn a ban on their products in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

A court has ruled that the ban on sale and production of Coca-Cola and Pepsi was "harsh, unjust and arbitrary".

The ban was imposed in August following a report by a Delhi-based NGO that the drinks contained harmful pesticides.

Both Coke and Pepsi argued that their drinks were totally safe for consumption.

The ban in Kerala effectively closed a market of 30m potential customers overnight.

Order welcomed

In their order, the judges said they were setting aside the government order because "the ban order issued by the state government was not within the legal powers that rest with the government".

They said they found merit in the companies' arguments that the government had not independently verified the quality of the products before imposing the ban.

The cola companies have welcomed the order.

A spokesman for Coke said the verdict "gives us the mandate to resume the sale and production of our products and we'll take steps to make Coke available in the local market quickly".

A statement issued by Pepsico India said: "This High Court order quashing the ban...clearly validates our steadfast confidence in the quality and safety of our products."

A disappointed Kerala government has said it will appeal against the verdict.

"We hope the judges will hear our detailed arguments and correct their judgment, saving the health and lives of people," said Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan.

Results 'flawed'

In a report released last month, the Centre for Science and Environment said that Coke and Pepsi contained high levels of pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

Sunita Narain, a spokeswoman for the independent research institute, said that the court had taken its decision on a technicality.

A number of other Indian states banned the drinks in schools and colleges, but with its outright ban on sale and production, Kerala went the furthest.

The two multinationals took the state government to court.

They argued that only the central government in India had the power to ban food products, and they pointed out, that it had not seen fit to do so.

Coca-cola and Pepsi also disputed the evidence upon which the ban was based, arguing that the results were flawed.

They said the ingredients used to make the fizzy drinks conformed to the highest purity standards.

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