Hotels and restaurants along Uttarakhand’s most popular pilgrim route are serving heavily adulterated food, putting lakhs of people at risk of potentially life-threatening ailments, an NGO said on Wednesday.
The findings by the NGO, Dehradun-based Society of Pollution and Environmental Conservation Scientists (Specs), are based on a survey between May and June this year. The report was released in Dehradun on Wednesday.
Lakhs of people from across the country and even abroad undertake the arduous pilgrimage to four Hindu shrines at Gangotri, Yamnotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath – crisscrossing three districts and travelling over 600 km, which entails overnight stays at hotels and resorts along the way.
According to official figures, at least 5.5 lakh people have already undertaken the pilgrimage this year, which began in April.
Members of the NGO said the tests were conducted on 1,685 randomly collected food samples. The NGO has its own laboratory for conducting the tests.
“On an average, the adulteration found in eatables is around 80%. There seems to be no control over it,” said Brij Mohan Sharma, secretary of Specs.
In all the locations from where the samples were collected, the maximum adulteration was found in mustard oil, which is between 97-100%, he added.
The other most adulterated items were vinegar 100%, chilli powder 94% and turmeric 90%.
Milk and milk products, known to be routinely adulterated, had adulteration levels between 50-62%, the report said.
The NGO, which also has health experts among its members, said that the adulterated food could lead to severe health ailments in humans including paralysis and cancer.
“The results of this survey clearly show that the state’s tourism policy, planning and practice largely ignore the boarding or food aspect of this high potential industry. And what all the pilgrims, tourists and other visitors are given is sheer third-class adulterated food stuff,” said Sharma.
The survey also found that local food items highly prized for their quality and purity – like pulses, vegetables, condiments and spices – are costlier and therefore the local hoteliers avoid them.
The district administration of Rudrapayag - where the Kedarnath shrine is located – said food inspectors have not found any adulteration of late.
“We have two officials as per the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India who do random checking from time to time. Most of the cases we found are related to misbranding of products. Though so far we haven’t seen any specific case of adulteration but will cross check again,” said Raghav Langhar, district magistrate of Rudraprayag.