Fresh veggies and fruits your way of healthy living? You may want to think again. Vegetables and fruits finding their way to Delhi markets are a toxic cocktail capable of causing cancer, heart disease and infertility and posing a risk to nervous system and liver.
Fresh produce sold in the Capital contains four banned pesticides laced with rat poison and insecticide, the Delhi high court noted on Wednesday, as it ordered surprise checks on traders contaminating their produce with chemicals and endangering people’s health for profit.
The banned pesticides include chlordane, a rat poison that affects the nervous system, endrin, an insecticide that causes headaches and dizziness, and heptachlor, which damages the liver and decreases fertility.
Pesticides, toxic colours and nerve-damaging hormones are used by farmers and traders to speed up growth, ripen and improve colour. These can trigger paroxysms of dizziness and seizures, besides causing heart disorders, sterility, nervous breakdowns and memory loss over the long term. Most of the vegetables sold in the Capital come from Azadpur market, Asia’s biggest wholesale hub for vegetables and fruits with an annual turnover of Rs600 crore.
Ordering a “reality check”, the court asked additional solicitor general AS Chandhiok, one of India’s top law officers, a team of six lawyers and two NGO representatives to go shopping in Delhi’s wholesale markets. The fresh fruits and vegetables they buy will be tested for contaminants. The court has sought a report within five weeks.
If found guilty, traders selling contaminated produce will be booked under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act and fined up to Rs1,000 and/or imprisoned up to six years.
"Let there be some reality check. We want to know what really is happening and how rampant it is," said the bench of chief justice Dipak Misra and justice Sanjiv Khanna.
Pesticides and hormones in fruits and vegetables in India were 750 times European standards, reported a study by the Delhi-based NGO, Consumer Voice, in October.
"In Delhi, 11,000 samples have been tested over the last three years, leading to 1,344 prosecutions," said Delhi government lawyer Najmi Waziri. "What is the point of booking shopkeepers for pesticides when the real culprit are the farmers?" asked Chandra Bhushan, head of food safety research at the Centre for Science and Environment, an NGO.
Since it is a PIL, the Delhi high court direction can be used as a precedent by courts in other states to ensure food safety.
"The farmers don't know the right use of many pesticides, they need training. Also, they have access to many banned pesticides, which has to be stopped," said Bhushan.