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Ripening of fruits, which is a natural phenomenon, is hastened in the recent times by using small quantities of ethylene or as a cheaper option to ethylene, the carcinogenic calcium carbide. Carbide, as it is popularly called, has arsenic and phosphorous which emit ethylene when in contact with moisture. Calcium carbide is a known carcinogenic, which can prove fatal or may cause a horde of ailments.

In the case of Centre for Public interest Litigation vs. Union of India & other (W.P. 681/2004) the Supreme Court of India has held that “ We may emphasize that any food article which is hazardous or injurious to public health is a potential danger to the fundamental right to life guaranteed under article 21 of the Constitution of India. A paramount duty is cast on the States and its authorities to achieve an appropriate level of protection to human life and health which is a fundamental right guaranteed to the citizens under article 21 read with article 47 of the constitution of India”.

The Food Safety and Standards Act, the Food safety and standards (Food products standards and food additives) regulations 2011, the Food and Safety Standards ( packing and labeling) Regulations 2011, Prevention of Food Adulteration Act and the rules framed thereunder are the various acts and regulations which govern the standard and quality of food in India. The Hon’ble Supreme Court had to say; “ the various grievances raised by the petitioner are seen covered by the above-mentioned regulations, but the question is only with regards to their enforcement by the authorities functioning under these legislations”.

The Hon’ble High Court of Andhra Pradesh in 2015 said the fruit traders who use the carcinogenic calcium carbide to artificially ripen fruits as “worse than terrorists”.  As expected, the officials appearing on behalf of the respondent State cited inadequate staff, the cost and time involved in setting up ethylene gas chambers to ripen fruits as reasons for not strictly following the provisions of various regulations. A division bench comprising of Justice Dilip Bhosale and Justice S.V. Bhatt pointed out that “consumption of tobacco was not the only cause of cancer; it was also a result of adulteration of milk, fruits and water ”.

Section 47. of the FSS Act says  Sampling and analysis. -

(1) When a Food Safety Officer takes a sample of food for analysis, he shall–

(a) give notice in writing of his intention to have it so analyzed to the person from whom he has taken the sample and to the person, if any, whose name, address and other particulars have been disclosed;

(b) except in special cases as may be provided by rules made under this Act, divide the sample into four parts and mark and seal or fasten up each part in such a manner as its nature permits and take the signature or thumb impression of the person from whom the sample has been taken in such place and in such manner as may be prescribed by the Central Government: Provided that where such person refuses to sign or put his thumb impression, the Food Safety Officer shall call upon one or more witnesses and take his signature or thumb impression, in lieu of the signature or thumb impression of such person;

(c) (i) send one of the parts for analysis to the Food Analyst under intimation to the Designated Officer;

(ii) send two parts to the Designated Officer for keeping these in safe custody; and

(iii) send the remaining part for analysis to an accredited laboratory, if so requested by the food business operator, under intimation to the Designated Officer: Provided that if the test reports received under sub-clauses (i) and (iii) are found to be at variance, then the Designated Officer shall send one part of the sample kept in his custody, to referral laboratory for analysis, whose decision thereon shall be final.

The problem lies with the provisions of the FSS act and their implementation. They are more aimed at organized packed food industry rather than the unorganized fruit market. Unregistered vendors and petty shops dominate the fruit market in India. Even the sample collecting procedure sans any logic since it gives ample scope for corrupt practices. So also the mandis where the fruits are ripened are mostly unregistered which makes it practically impossible to track the culprits.

The FSS Act also speaks of educating the public in making a wise choice. When the major percentage of the consumers of these poisonous fruits is illiterates and small children, one can’t expect them to be even aware of this kind of adulteration. What is needed is the will and grit in bringing the corrupt traders to book, expedite the trial procedure and impose strictest possible corporal punishment rather than a fine so that it will act as a deterrent to those who adopt these heinous methods to make a quick buck. The newly launched healthcare scheme aims at providing 100 million families, or about 500 million poor people, with health cover of 500,000 rupees per year for free treatment of serious ailments., necessitating the expenditure of 1% GDP to 7% GDP.

If the citizen’s right to unadulterated food is safeguarded, it will be effective cost-cutting on part of individuals and the government as well, as they say, prevention is always better than cure.

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