Pesticides in veggies; HC terms it 'alarming', seeks action

Written by PTI | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 7 2014, 07:17am hrs
PesticidesDelhi High Court today termed as "alarming" the findings of an expert committee on the status of. Reuters
The Delhi High Court today termed as "alarming" the findings of an expert committee on the status of pesticide residues in food commodities and said almost entire 1.75 crore Delhiites eat fruits and vegetables which are not fit for human consumption.

The bench, headed by acting Chief Justice B D Ahmed, asked Delhi government to set up within four weeks a "Pesticide Residue Management Cell (PRMC)" under the control of the Food Commissioner for effective handling of the issue.

"This is an alarming situation. We, including the comittee members who prepared the report, are consuming pesticides," the bench, also comprising Justice Siddharth Mridul, said.

It asked the city government and the Union Agriculture Ministry to take long and short-terms measures to minimise the harm and make people aware about the "ways and means" to deal with the situation.

"However, there are short-term measures (suggested by the expert body) to minimise the presence of banned pesticides residue in the fruits, cereals, vegetables and other eatables.

"The ways and means need to be translated in Hindi, Gurumukhi and Urdu and circulated and publicised in Delhi... at various places including bus stands, railway stations and vegetable vending sites so that public is educated to handle the pesticide issue," it said, adding the report of the panel be also posted on government websites.

The bench, which fixed the matter for hearing on April 15, asked Delhi and the Centre to file separate status reports regarding the actions taken by them on the issue.

It also asked Delhi government to conduct periodic checks of vegetables and fruits after collecting from different places in the city so that it can ascertain whether the presence of pesticide was rising or diminishing.

"During the period of April 2011 to March 2012, samples of vegetables, fruits, spices, cereals... and ground water were collected and analysed for the possible presence of pesticides ... A total of 16, 948 samples have been analysed ...out of which 290 (1.7 per cent) samples were found above maximum residue limit (MRL) as prescribed under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act...," the report had said.

During the hearing, the court criticised the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) sayingit was doing the job which should have been done by FSSAI.

Earlier, the court was told by the amicus curiae that the Centre and Delhi government have failed to address the issue.

It had also impleaded as parties the ministries of Agriculture, Chemicals and Fertilisers, Science and Technology, Environment and Forests and Health and Family Welfare and Delhi government's department of Food Safety.

The court had in May last year asked the Delhi and central government to carry out "surprise" inspections in fruits and vegetables markets.

Earlier, taking suo motu cognisance of a media report, the court had directed the ministry to set up a committee and frame guidelines to prevent use of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables.

The Centre had constituted the committee comprising experts and the government officials but the guidelines are yet to be framed.

The move had come after some NGOs submitted survey reports that vegetables and fruits sold in the city's markets contain poisons capable of causing cancer and harming the nervous system and liver.

The NGO Consumer Voice, one of the petitioners in the court, said the quantum of pesticides in fruits and vegetables in India, especially those sold in Delhi markets, was as much as 750 times the European standards.

The NGO claimed that of the five internationally banned pesticides, four were found to be common in vegetables sold here. They included a central nervous system toxin endrin which causes nausea and dizziness and heptachlor that can damage the liver and decrease fertility.