Gauhati High Court: In an interesting case of PIL concerning artificial ripening of fruits, the Division Bench of Achintya Malla Buhor Barua and Nelson Sailo, JJ, stated,
“Although appropriate steps had been taken and authorities are not oblivious to the impending problem, but what has been done till now cannot be said to be adequate or that it had led to the eradication of the problem.”
The instant PIL was filed by one Bhaskar Barua, to raise concern about the fruits being sold in the market, which were ripened by an artificial process of using a chemical called calcium carbide. It was stated that the fruits were being plucked at a pre-matured stage and thereafter, were subjected to a process i.e., by keeping it above a collection of the chemical calcium carbide, which releases some gas and the gas in turn, makes the fruits ripened quickly to facilitate the traders to transport them in a better condition as otherwise there would be the possibility of them getting ripened fast and thus, getting rotten.
The petitioner had submitted that, it being a health concern, the present PIL had been preferred on the ground that such fruits had its own detrimental effects on the health of people. It was stated that several scientific reports were available which reveals that serious diseases like cancer, etc., were caused due to consumption of artificially ripened fruits. It was also argued that,
“By subjecting the people at large to consume fruits, which are ripened in a contaminated manner by using calcium carbide, the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India is also violated.”
Observations and Directions
Noticing that several efforts were made by state to curb this evil, i.e., use of “Food Safety on Wheel” for on the spot testing of foods in the State, inspections and seizure of samples, the Bench opined that, although appropriate steps had been taken and authorities were not oblivious to the impending problem, but what had been done till now could not be said to be adequate or that it had led to an eradication of the problem.
The Bench expressed concern over easy availability calcium carbide in an unregulated manner which had afforded unscrupulous dealers, whole-sellers and vendors the opportunity to use it for their illegitimate procedure of ripening of the fruits. The Court interpreted calcium carbide as an adulterant under Section 3(1)(a) of Food and Safety Standards Act, 2006 (FSSA). Observing that the existing provisions of FSSA, 2006 and that of the Calcium Carbide Rules, 1987 were not adequate enough to bring about a complete control on the availability of calcium carbide, the Bench laid down detailed guideline to curb the same.
Directions to Food Safety Officer
Observing the powers of Food Safety Officers (FSO) under Section 37 and 38 of the FSSA 2006 and that approx 17 samples of calcium carbide were collected from the premises of different food vendors by FSOs, the Bench stated had given following directions:
- More frequent or a daily entry and inspection of all the fruit stalls shouldl be undertaken by FSOs.
- The wholesalers dealers and fruit vendors should be require to clearly display the names addresses and phone numbers/mobile phone numbers of the Senior FSOs concerned, so that any member of the public can immediately inform the authorities if any case of artificial ripening of fruits is detected.
- FSOs were directed to maintain a register of all such complaints including the name address and telephone number of the complainants. Upon a complaint being made, the same be immediately attended to, if possible within the same time during which the complainant purchaser would remain within the premises of the vendor.
- FSOs should inform the outcome of such enquiry to the complainant by giving a written message in the form of SMS or Whatsapp.
- If the result of the enquiry was not informed to the complainant/purchaser within a reasonable time, the complainant-purchaser may make a complaint against such Senior FSO.
Directions to Curb Availability of Calcium Carbide
According to Rule 4 of Calcium Carbide Rules, 1987, no person shall deliver or dispatch any carbide to any person other than the holder of a storage license or his authorized agent or a port authority or a railway authority. While finding the existing provisions insufficient, the Bench opined that it would be more expedient for the Central Government to frame appropriate Rules regulating the open availability of the calcium carbide in the market. Reliance was placed by the Court on the decision of Telengana High Court in Eenadu Telugu Daily News Paper v. Union of India, 2019 SCC OnLine TS 363, wherein, the Court had expressed,
“ What now needs to be done is to ensure that carbide does not reach any hand, which is not duly authorized to possess it… law contains the prohibition that carbide shall not be used in any purpose except industrial purpose. Therefore, the State Government will take immediate action to take adequate steps in accordance with law against any person found to be in possession of carbide other than those as permitted by law.”
Therefore, the PIL was dismissed with following directions:
- The authorities in the Central Government were directed to frame appropriate rules for regulating the open availability of calcium carbide in the market and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas were required to coordinate for the purpose of framing required rules.
- The petitioner was requested to continue with his concern and be alert as to whether the requirement of the directions had been suitably followed by the respondents.
- Lastly, Health and Family Welfare Department was also directed to monitor the activities of the Senior Food Safety Officer/ Food Safety Officer towards their requirement of complying with the directions of this order.
[Bhaskar Baruah v. Union of India, PIL 35 of 2018, decided on 18-02-2021]
Appearance before the Court by:
For the Petitioner: Bhaskar Barua
For the Respondents: Senior Adv. D. Saikia for State of Assam and Asst. Solicitor general of India S.C Keyal for Union of India
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has put this story together.