About 60-lakh kgs of pepper confiscated in 2012 due to adulteration is supposed to be cleaned with water under a court order. Is it feasible?
Mumbai-based National Commodities and Derivatives Exchange (NCDEX), is in the process of cleaning 60-lakh kg of pepper, following an order from the Kerala High Court. This 60-lakh kgs of pepper has been adulterated by coating with carcinogenic oils and paraffin.
These stocks had been confiscated in 2012 and kept sealed in various godowns in southern Kerala and were ordered to be destroyed by the then Food Safety Commissioner. This media report was followed up through applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and the facts that have emerged, though not even a fraction of the info sought, are, to say the least, horrible, says Major PM Ravindran (retd).
Here is the three-sentence order of A Muhammed Mushtaq, judge of the Kerala High Court…
The order reads, “Considering the facts and circumstances of the case there shall be direction to the first respondent (Commissioner of Food Safety, Kerala) to allow the petitioner (NCDEX) for cleaning all the sealed stocks of pepper and forward the samples of cleaned pepper to any of the FSSAI notified laboratories. The modalities for taking out the quantity and the manner in which it has to be taken for testing shall be done by the petitioner as per the direction of the first respondent. It is made clear that this exercise is without prejudice to the petitioner's rights/claims etc against any parties for the cost incurred.”
Major Ravindran says, “The first reaction on seeing the High Court order was how it can issue such directions? On thinking further, because we cannot allege that our Courts can be wrong, a doubt arose as to whether the answers to the following questions had been brought to the notice of the Court.”
The quantity of water required to clean this large quantity of pepper.
Whether the whole quantity can be cleaned at one place.
Whether this large quantity of water is available wherever it is proposed to be cleaned.
The details of the process used for the proposed cleaning.
The stages in the process where things can be manipulated and how such pitfalls would be avoided. For example instead of rinsing thrice, the material is only rinsed once or twice.
The cost of cleaning this complete quantity, including transportation to cleaning centre(s) from their present locations.
Whether only Indian Products Ltd, Walayar has the technology and knowhow to clean contaminated pepper. What is their expertise and experience in this field?
Whether the cleaned product would be fit for consumption.
What are the contaminants that could have permeated/been absorbed by the pepper during the prolonged storage?
Have reasonable samples been cleaned using this process, evaluated for fitness for consumption and the result submitted to the court? If not, why not? If yes, what are the results?
“Though it is such an important issue,” Major Ravindran said, “it is shocking that the order is not a speaking order and the facts and circumstances referred to in it are available only in an affidavit submitted by the applicant to the High Court. In fact, the first respondent did not even have that part of the order giving the details of the petitioner and the respondent(s). See the copy (below) of the order provided by the Public Information Officer of the Food Safety Commissionerate.”
He said, the order of the Commissioner is fairly elaborate but misses only one thing- the allotment of resources for this futile herculean task!
“I say futile because pepper being an organic substance, I cannot believe that whatever has been ingested by it, can be removed by superficial cleaning. To those who disagree, please try removing salt from raw mango kept in brine for a month!” Major Ravindran added.
The Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), which is responsible for approving facilities with the cleaning company, only knows whatever data has been provided by the company. But even then it does not seem competent to take a rational decision.
For example, the company has intimated that its water consumption is only 7,000 litres per day from its bore well. And now look at the quantity of pepper cleaned as per the Asst. Commissioner of Food Safety, Palakkad below.
On just one day, 24 January 2015, 18.95 tons of pepper had been cleaned/ processed! Of course a cursory look at the data of pepper brought for processing and processed would reveal that para 7 of the Commissioner's order has not been complied with!
Major Ravindran says this brings us to the question: what should We, the People, do when all the institutions of the government fail us with impunity?