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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

BHOPAL'S SHAME

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The vernacular press has been reporting for the last few days the
A snacks & soft drinks stall in Bhopal
checks that are being carried out by the local food safety inspectors and their findings of utterly damnable conditions in which food items are prepared for being put out for sale.

The news of the inspectors witnessing washing of raw items of vegetables in sewer water – plain and simple sewage, before sending them off to the market was alarming. This is done by the vegetable growers in their farms close to an area (E-8 Extension Arera Colony) where plushest of gated complexes have come up. That the vegetables that are sent out for sale washed in this manner will be harmful for those who consume them did not seem to have occurred to the farmers and those who do the washing in such sordid and filthy conditions. A report also said that these farms are irrigated by sewage that flows in the drains that pass by. So what most of the Bhopal citizens are consuming are various coli forms and other harmful organisms along with the vegetables.

What the food safety inspectors did was to collect samples of vegetables and greens and send them for a scientific analysis to Indore, a little less than 200 kms away. And, instead of ordering closure of the farms, they are now reported to be instructing, gratuitously, the farm-owners and their workers about what all could happen if such stuff is consumed. No legal process has so far been initiated though it is a clear case of wilfully and knowingly attempting to physically harm people and causing injury to their health.

Earlier, a similar squad of food safety inspectors had raided a few fruit juice stalls and kitchens of some nondescript eateries. While at the juice stalls the squad found rotten apples, pomegranates and other fruits and unclean equipment, at the eateries it found kitchens that were filthy and dirty men working therein with bare unclean hands. Using bare hands to handle food items is a peculiarity in this country. Leave alone the West even in many countries of the neighbourhood bare hands are no longer used even by roadside food sellers. But we seem to think people needlessly make a big fuss about the use of bare hands and refuse to see the rationale behind use of protective gloves.

 The sequence of events shows a very casual official approach towards this vital matter. Almost every individual has to buy snacks or food from the market sometime or other and yet it is fraught with risks to one’s health. There is hardly any check when, in fact, it should be of an intense kind. There is rampant indifference mixed with ignorance about hygiene and cleanliness in dealing with food in bazaars. Here, everybody and anybody can hawk on the streets home-made stuff or open a stall for juice or snacks without any check on quality and the environment they are made in. No wonder, the latest reports indicate an increase in numbers of patients of intestinal disorders in local hospitals. The rotting and infected food stuffs become pretty lethal when the ambient temperature crosses 400 Celsius.

Quite apparently, our people are increasingly becoming callous towards others. Concern for others is a virtue which has almost disappeared. Everyone has become self-centred, busy in taking care of his own interests; others could literally go to hell. No wonder, cases of adulteration in food products are on the rise as was noticed two years ago in case of khoa (thickened milk) during the festive season. Whether those who were nabbed in northern India are undergoing jail sentences or not is not known. Maybe, the cases are still lingering on. Not only the laws are weak, the judicial system is also rusty. And, on top of it all, the Food Safety Organisation is poorly staffed, with not enough number of men and laboratories.


While consuming juices and snacks from stalls can be avoided but buying of vegetable from the bazaar cannot be avoided. One cannot make out from their appearance whether fruits and vegetables bought were washed in filthy water, were artificially ripened or they acquired that unlikely sheen with the help of harmful chemicals or have had an overdose of pesticides. It is the government and public bodies which can and should carry out these checks on a regular basis. But there is such a huge deficit in governance that all these vital functions are not bestowed the required degree of importance. As a result we are building up a sick nation – hollow from inside with hardly any endurance. It is such a shame!
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