The Delhi high court on Wednesday ordered surprise checks of wholesale and retail markets in the Capital to ensure that vegetable and fruits on sale do not have pesticide residue beyond permissible limits.
The court was acting on survey reports filed by consumer rights NGOs which said that vegetables and fruits finding its way to Capital’s markets are a toxic cocktail capable of pesticides including those banned causing cancer, heart disease and infertility and posing a risk to nervous system and liver.
The banned pesticides included chlordane, a rat poison that affects the nervous system and endrin, an insecticide that causes headache. A bench headed by chief justice D Murugesan directed a panel formed by the Union agriculture ministry to pick samples and get them tested in labs and recommend prosecution of errant traders so that they shall not be allowed to contaminate their produce with chemicals and endanger people’s health for profit.
They are to file an inspection report in the court on May 29.
Under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, a trader selling contaminated produce can be jailed upto six years and fined up to Rs. 5,000.
“The amount of pesticides in fruits and vegetables in India and especially sold in Delhi markets was as much as 750 times the European standards”, NGO Consumer Voice told the court.
“The court panel had in May 2011 visited markets in Kotla, Mayur Vihar, Sarojini Nagar, INA, Defence Colony, Vasant Vihar and Lodhi Estate. We found that pesticides, toxic colours and hormones are being used by farmers and traders to speed up growth, ripen and improve colour,” said lawyer Meera Bhatia, member of the court-appointed panel.
“We have a laboratory near Delhi Vidhan Sabha where samples from each wholesale fruit and vegetable market are checked every day,” said Rajinder Sharma, chairman, Agricultural Produce Market Committee. “In case chemical residues are found in any sample, action is taken as per the norms,” he said.
Fruit and vegetable traders of the Capital, however, feel that it is difficult to check and maintain complete absence of pesticides or chemicals in products.