- Nov 16, 2017 -
You are driving down a busy thoroughfare, when your eyes fall upon the delectably laden trolley of a mango vendor. You know full well that you are already late for office, and yet don't think twice about stopping near the fruit seller to buy a dozen. But think twice before you dig into the pulpy fruit.
For, it may be a sure-shot ticket to the hospital for you and your family. Most mangoes that are currently being sold in every nook and corner of the Capital have been artificially ripened using harmful chemicals. Their consumption causes several harmful effects, including neurological disorders, doctors and experts claim.
A.K. Singh, head of the fruits and horticultural technology division at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), says mangoes ripen naturally by mid-June. Those currently being sold in the Capital's markets have been ripened prematurely with the help of a banned chemical called calcium carbide. "These mangoes are plucked before reaching the physiological maturity. They are not allowed to ripen naturally. Usually, fruits produce ethylene gas, that hastens ripening. But the mangoes which are now being sold in the markets can't produce ethylene as they have been plucked prematurely. So, vendors use calcium carbide to ripen them," Singh says.
He added that if consumed, such carbide-ripened fruits can affect the neurological system, resulting in headaches, dizziness, sleep disorders and mental ailments. Dr Varun Aggarwal of the Lady Hardinge Medical College, explains: "Calcium carbide, once dissolved in water, produces acetylene gas. Acetylene acts as an asphyxiant and may affect the neurological system by inducing prolonged hypoxia. This leads to headaches, dizziness, mood disturbances, sleepiness, mental confusion, memory loss and seizures." He adds: "Excessive consumption of calcium carbide labelled fruits can even be fatal."
Mango dealers in the Capital also agree with the fact that calcium carbide-ripened fruits may harm consumers. But they explain their logic behind using the chemical. "Right now, mangoes are coming from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Farmers there pluck the fruits prematurely as unripened mangoes are more resistant to damage during handling, transport and storage. If they are plucked only after ripening, this would lead to huge losses as most of the consignment would be spoilt. Ripe fruits are soft and prone to damage," a mango vendor at the Azadpur wholesale market says.
Authorities, however, refuse to buy this reasoning. Government officials in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, on Monday destroyed about 100 tonnes of artificially ripened mangoes worth about Rs 1 crore. But it's a different story altogether in the national capital, where business is going on as usual. Some dealers claim there is hardly any monitoring by the department concerned.
Azadpur, one of the biggest fruit markets in the country, is flooded with several varieties of mangoes. Traders say more than four lakh kilograms of mangoes are delivered to the market daily. Three lakh kg are sold in Delhi only. All the 'imported' mangoes are green and hard when they are brought in. In the back alleys of the market, one would find people selling calcium carbide - or masala - wrapped in small paper chits for as low as Rs 2-3 per sachet.
Mango traders buy this masala and use it for ripening the mangoes. Raw mangoes are packed in cartons and one sachet of masala is kept between each layer. "This is the only way to ripen the mangoes quickly," a mango trader says. "People would not buy raw mangoes. But if we add masala, the mangoes would be ripened within a day and will be ready to be sold in the market," he adds. Harwansh Lal Dua, chairman of the Azadpur Fruit Merchants' Association, denies any wrongdoing on the part of the dealers in the market. "Middlemen might be doing this but we are unaware of this. Calcium carbide is banned and is not being added to fruits in the market," Dua says.
MCD health committee chairman V.K. Monga passes the buck on to the Delhi government. He says once the fruits are ripened, the issue belongs to the government's food and adulteration department. State minister of food supplies Harun Yusuf says: "We have received some complaints and officials have been instructed to keep an eye over this. Action would be taken against those found involved in using the harmful chemical."
Yusuf adds that a new 65-acre mandi is being set up at Tikri for "better monitoring of fruit sales".