The southern Indian state of Karnataka has reportedly filed a case against Coca-Cola Co., amid the row surrounding the allegedly illegal levels of pesticide in the company's products.

The move follows publication of results by the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment that precipitated bans or partial bans on Coke and PepsiCo products across a number of states including Karnataka.

However, this is the first such case to have been filed by a state government.

"The government will not hesitate to initiate action be it against a multinational company or an Indian firm ... the health of our children is very important," Karnataka Health Minister R. Ashok was quoted as saying to Agence France Presse at the weekend.

Coke and Pepsi, which together account for around 80% of the Indian soft drinks market, have both insisted that their products are safe. In fact, PepsiCo India and Coca-Cola India have both filed separate petitions with the Kerala High Court challenging the ban in that state, according to a report in The Times of India.

"Given our strong belief that there is no legal basis for the ban and it is unfair, arbitrary and unwarranted, Coca-Cola believes that it has no option but to challenge the order," a Coke spokesperson was quoted as saying.

Both the Coke and Pepsi suits in the Kerala HC are expected to be heard early this week.

Earlier this month, the Centre for Science and Environment published a report which said that high levels of toxic chemicals had been found in 57 drink products taken from 25 different Indian Coke and PepsiCo plants, prompting Kerala to ban Coke and Pepsi products, while another five states banned them from schools and government offices.

The Centre for Science and Environment said at the weekend that it stood by the results, in spite of the denials from Coke and Pepsi. "We have the right test methodology and the experience," the centre's director Sunita Narain told Agence France Presse. "If we can drink them (Coke and Pepsi), we can test them."

However, in the same interview Narain appeared to suggest that the centre's objective was primarily to focus attention on India's lax standards.

Narain even added that the centre "is not worried" if the results were subsequently proved to be inaccurate as its aim was to focus attention on India's lax nutrition safety standards.

"When we released our study on pesticides in soft drinks, our objective was clear - we needed to prod action on regulations," she said.

It is unlikely that Coke and PepsiCo will see things the same way in the event that the centre's results are found to have been inaccurate.