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| Last Updated:23/01/2020

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'Vegetables full of river toxins'

It's not just pesticides-a toxic mix of sewage and industrial effluents may be contaminating what's grown on the bed of the Yamuna. The quality of the fruits and vegetables-that feed most of Delhi's population-may thus stand severely compromised, according to two applications filed in Delhi high court and National Green Tribunal, one pleading for a ban on artificial colours and waxing of produce and the other dwelling on how the river's pollution is risking the lives of people who eat greens grown on its soil.


The department of food safety, Delhi, too, recently released an advertisement asking consumers to clean their fruits and vegetables in various solutions to do away with chemical residue. Several consignments of fruit and vegetable exports from India have been rejected for quality issues in the recent past-the European Union banning the import of mangoes and four vegetables starting May 1 after fruit flies were detected in 207 consignments. Even Saudi Arabia banned import of Indian chillis earlier this month due to presence of high pesticide residues. The recent plea in NGT by Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan suggests large scale pollution of Yamuna from industrial effluents and sewage that has led to groundwater pollution and soil pollution.


Vegetables irrigated by this contaminated water are laced with heavy metals and chemical residues, the application says. It quotes various studies including a 2012 The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) study that found the level of toxic metals like nickel, lead, manganese, chromium and zinc high in many water samples. At one locations, lead levels were 10 times more than those anywhere else in the river and at another location near a thermal power plant, mercury concentration was about 200 times more than United States Environmental Protection Agency standard. It also quotes a 2012 study by National Reference Trace Organics Laboratory and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in association with the environment ministry that found Lindane, a carcinogenic insecticide in Yamuna water.


RTI revelations from 2013 of the amount of the sewage and industrial effluents discharged in the river from a number of cities upstream have also been submitted. The application seeks NGT implead CPCBCentral Pollution Control Board as a respondent in the case and direct CPCB or the state pollution control board to prepare a report on what action must be taken to stop this sort of contamination. "Vegetables contaminated with such toxins can impact normal health quite seriously. It can cause a range of conditions including cancers, heart disease, brain, kidney and liver diseases, muscle and general weakness," Dr SP Byotra, head of internal medicine at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital said. Activist Manoj Misra, who filed the application, said it that the application shouldn't be misunderstood as a complaint against farmers. "The application is not against farmers.


They have no choice but to use polluted water. It is the fault of pollution agencies and industries who failed to control it," said Misra. The other application in HC says the department of food safety in Delhi is doing nothing about polished food grains and coloured vegetables and fruits containing hazardous substances that are being sold in wholesale and retail outlets. Ananthoo, coordinator of a civil society group on food safety, said "middlemen and retailers usually inject colours in fruits like watermelon and pomegranate. Waxing of apples is also common around the country where petroleum-based wax is used ". Waxing is usually done to retard shrinkage and make the produce appear fresh.


Times of India, Delhi, Thursday 15th May 2014