Renowned across the country for being top notch, the Himachal apple is now getting a bad name in the southern states of the country due to local traders using the carcinogen calcium carbide to artificially ripen the fruit.
Calcium carbide is a chemical compound whose two main products — acetylene, a colourless gas widely used as a fuel and calcium cyanamide, used as fertiliser in agriculture — are extremely harmful to the human body.
Normally known to be used to ripen fruits such as mango, banana, papaya and tomato, cases of the chemical being used to ripen even Himachal apple have now sprung up in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
The Hyderabad high court recently termed traders who used the chemical “worse than terrorists” while ordering a thorough probe into the use of the poison.
“For earning some extra rupees, you are putting scores of lives at risk. Such traders are worse than terrorists, killing generations of people with slow poison,” the acting chief justice had said.
However, farmers and the government in Himachal Pradesh have denied any hand in the use of the chemical, even though supply of apple to the two southern states had dipped majorly since the HC order.
Besides these states, Himachal apple is mainly supplied to Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and West Bengal, and further distributed to other states thereon.
While about 30,000 to 40,000 apple boxes were daily supplied to the markets in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, since the Hyderabad high court ruling, the demand has decreased.
Now only about 10,000 boxes are being sent to these states on any given day.
Sanjiv Chauhan, a local fruit merchant, said now traders were loading apples for states other than Andhra Pradesh.
“We are receiving less demand from the wholesalers. Earlier, I use to receive a demand of 1,000 boxes a day, which has come down to 300-400 boxes,” Rashid, a fruit trader in Vijayvada, Andhra Pradesh, said.
In Himachal, the use of calcium carbide for ripening fruit is not common among farmers for several reasons. Among them primary being the fact that apple growers do not need to ripen the fruit.
“We look for cold stores to keep our fruit fresh. Neither farmers nor local traders use calcium carbide,” Himachal Pradesh Horticulture Produce Market Committee (HPMC) vice-chairman Prakash Thakur said.
“This is nothing but a strategy of importers in India to defame the domestic apple produce and popularise apple imported from other countries, like the US and China. In this nefarious circle, Himachal apple is earning a bad name,” said Kunal Chauhan, general secretary, Progressive Growers Association (PGA).
Interestingly, according to a government official while in countries like New Zealand and the US, growers use up to 20 sprays of fungicides and insecticides on apple crop, those in Himachal use only about five sprays.