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Jalandhar

Posted at: Nov 4, 2015, 1:04 AM; last updated: Nov 4, 2015, 1:00 AM (IST)

Bitter truth about fruits: Artificial ripening rampant in dist

Rachna Khaira

Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, October 3

It may be the perfect season to dig into luscious seasonal fruits, but think twice before reaching out for them during the ongoing festive season. Most of these fruits are ripened artificially with calcium carbide and can cause headache, dizziness, sleep disorder and even memory loss. 

With absolutely no check by the District Mandi Board officials, most fruit vendor in the district are ripening their fruits with calcium carbide, a banned chemical in godowns that are unlicensed. 

However, the lone cold storage facility built in 2011 by the Mandi Board, that is worth crores, was found to have been encroached upon by labourers working inside the fruit market who have made make-shift residences inside the air-conditioned chambers.  

To know the reality behind the artificial ripening of fruits, Jalandhar Tribune visited the Maqsudan Wholesale Fruit market and found that calcium carbide was openly on sale at various outlets to give the fruits a robust look, pulpiness and aroma and to subvert its period of ripening.  The traders confessed that many of them are using calcium carbide, popularly known as ‘masala’ for the ripening process. Ingestion of this harmful chemical can affect the neurological system in human beings. 

The traders also accused the Mandi Board officials of giving the cold storage to two private companies instead of making the facility available to them all. “Though the facility was inadequate, the officials have given it on rent only to two firms,” said a trader. 

He also alleged that though the firms have reportedly hired the entire storage house with six chambers and two cold rooms, while keeping most of the area vacated, they too are ripening their fruits with ‘masala’ in various other unlicensed godowns. 

Though the use of calcium carbide in fruits is banned, the practice continues unhindered in the district. Asked about the fear of authorities over the use of banning ‘masala’, a trader said smugly: “Nothing happens. Local officials are aware of all this, but we take care of them. This has been going on for years.” He also informed that the department has so far failed to provide adequate storage capacity for fruit ripening, an important process for fruits like mangoes and bananas.” 

Taranjit Singh, District Mandi Officer, said he was not aware of the practice and maintained that no fruit vendor has ever approached him so far to get a place for  ripening their fruits. “We need to maintain the massive storage house and hence, have to give it on rent to the two companies who showed interest in hiring the premises,” said Singh. When asked, he, however, failed to provide the number of licensed fruit and vegetable commodity godowns in the district. 

Dr Kailash Kapoor, Civil Surgeon, also claimed helplessness in checking adulteration of fruits and vegetables in the district. “The District Mandi Board has not provided us the information about licensed godowns where we can go and check the fruit ripening process. Though we did receive a complaint recently pertaining to the artificial ripening of fruits inside the wholesale market and conducted an investigation inside the Mandi premises, we could not find anything,” said Dr Kapoor.  

Surprisingly, while the District Mandi Board and the Health Department is refuting the claim over the use of ‘masala’ for fruit ripening, it is being openly used in over a dozen godowns situated adjacent to the boundary wall of the wholesale market. 

In India, artificial ripening is banned under the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act, 1954, and the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955. According to rules 44AA of the PFA Rules 1955, no fruit can be ripened with the help of calcium carbide. 

Those convicted under this Act could face imprisonment for three years and a fine of Rs 1,000. But there are hardly any cases where the traders or retailers have been booked  in the district for accelerating the ripening by the use of harmful chemicals. 

Several news reports have highlighted the open use  of CaC2 in different parts of the country. Recently, the Union Health Ministry has sent a circular to all state food authorities with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, stressing upon the need to take legal action against those found guilty of violation of the PFA rules.

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