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Ministry of Environment & Forests constitutes an ecological committee to survey the Western Ghats and then sweats at making the details of the report public. RTI and judiciary direct it to make it to do so
The importance of the Western Ghats in our country is unquestionable. Considered as one of the 34 global biodiversity hot spots, they are spread across a whopping 1,29,000 odd sq kilometres.
The reason why MoEF (ministry of environment and forests) is now sweating after itself having instituted a 13-member, Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel ( WGEEP) is that the Western Ghats are spread over six states—Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Now, with most of the states having apparently trampled upon various eco-sensitive areas with activities like mining, roads and railways (instead of leaving them alone as no-development zones), the MoEF does not want to make the report public and allegedly create conflict between the central and state governments. Or encourage a public debate on perhaps open up some explosive chapters of the report that will be questioned by civic and environmental activist groups. In short, the MoEF which constituted the panel to bring back the pristine glory of the Western Ghats, is now wanting to push the issue under the carpet.
WGEEP submitted the report as required by the MoEF on 30 August 2011, after two years of thorough study which included I) field visits, wide ranging consultations with civil society, experts, concerned state governments, MoEF officials, elected representatives including Gram Panchayat members, MPs, ministers and CMs; (II) assessed the current status of ecology of the Western Ghats region and demarcated areas which needed to be notified as ecologically-sensitive and to recommend for notification of such areas as ecologically sensitive zones under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and; (III) made recommendations for the conservation, protection and rejuvenation of the Western Ghats Region, after public consultations.
Chairperson of WGEEP Madhav Gadgil rues:
States Madhav Gadgil, eminent environmentalist and chairperson of the WGEEP, “We undertook this task with great interest and sincerity. Basically this was a scientific task of deciding on a set of criteria for declaration of Ecologically Sensitive Zones on the Western Ghats, putting together a spatial database on ecological parameters for the region, delineating potential ecologically sensitive zones, and suggesting a strategy for conservation, protection and rejuvenation of the Western Ghats tract, taking into account our assignment of ecological sensitivity levels.
“We were told that it would be released at a public function on 21 September 2011. On 19 September 2011 we were informed that the report is not going to be made public for the present, and that we should not release it or discuss it publicly.”
Kerala resident invokes RTI Act in Nov 2011
RTI filed: RTI (Right to Information) Act is always the hope out. G Krishnan, a resident of Kerala, invoked the RTI in November 2011 at the MoEF office. He asked for the copy of the WGEEP report under Section 6 of the RTI Act. The Public Information Officer (PIO) denied information stating that the MoEF is still in the process of examining the report in consultation with six state governments of the Western Ghats region. Since the report was “not final and a draft under consideration of MOEF”, it cannot be disclosed under the RTI Act. Mr Krishnan was asked to file his RTI application “again at a later date after completion of the process.”
First Appeal filed: Mr Krishnan then filed a first appeal with the Appellate Authority of the MoEF but here too he was denied information stating that “it comes under Section 8” (information can be denied in this section for various reasons—here it was cited as compromising with economic interests of states, which was indeed laughable).
Second Appeal filed: Mr Krishnan then filed a second appeal with the Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi in Delhi. The PIO reasoned that “views from 11 ministries, the Planning Commission and six states were being sought. Therefore, disclosure of information at this stage would lead to various proposals as per the recommendations of the report which had not been finally accepted. This would affect the economic interests of the state.”
CIC orders MoEF to provide copy of the report by 5th May and put it up on the website by 10th May: The CIC in its order of 12th April stated that Mr Krishnan should be provided the copy of the report by 5th May. The order stated: “The PIO is directed to provide an attested photocopy of the summary of the WGEEP report to the appellant before 5 May, 2012. Further, the PIO will also ensure that the complete WGEEP report is placed on the Ministry of Environment and Forest’s website before 10 May, 2012.”
CIC Shailesh Gandhi further asked the MoEF to “publish all reports of commissions, special committees or panels within 30 days of receiving them…” and that if the MoEF feels that “any part is exempt, the reasons for claiming exemptions should be recorded and the report displayed on the website within 45 days of receipt, after severing the parts claimed to be exempt. There should be a declaration on the website about the parts that have been severed, and the reasons for claiming exemptions as per the provisions of the RTI Act.”
MoEF marches to the Delhi High Court
Not satisfied with the CIC decision, the MoEF sought legal intervention. It filed a petition with the Delhi High Court in first week of May. The MoEF argued that “a host of information in relation to the minutes of the meeting/report of the Madhav Gadgil Committee/panel; 42 commissioned papers; 7 brainstorming sessions; 1 expert consultative meeting; 8 consultations with government agencies; 40 consultations with civil society groups; 14 field visits have already been made public by placing the same on the website—www.westernghatsindia.org. Consequently, the materials which have gone into the preparation of the report of the WGEEP have been made public.”
The submission raised by the MoEF that providing a copy of the report would harm the economic interests of the state was demolished by the judge who stated that, “ It must be remembered that the object and purpose of governance in a democracy is to fulfil the will of the people. The PIO has claimed that the policy is being formulated and hence the report cannot be disclosed. This bench would like to remember Justice Mathew’s clarion call in the state of Uttar PradeshVs Raj Narain (1975) 4 SCC 428—‘In a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing. Their right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor which should make one wary when secrecy is claimed for transactions which can at any rate have no repercussion on public security’. With the advent of the RTI Act, citizens have access to a variety of information held by the government and its instrumentalities. It includes information impacting the environment such as impact assessment reports, clearances, permissions/licenses provided by the concerned ministries, etc.”
The judge also interestingly remarked that, “The endeavour of the petitioner appears to be to withhold the WGEEP report so as to curb participation of the civil society and the interested environmental groups as also the common man, who is likely to be affected by the policy as eventually framed, in the debate that should take place before the policy is formulated. Before the formation of the policy, all the stakeholders should be able to deal with the report and consider whether to support or oppose the findings and recommendations made therein, and the policy should be eventually formulated after due consideration of all points of view.”
Concludes Madhav Gadgil, “If such reports are put in public domain, citizens’ views and concerns can be articulated in a scientific and reasonable manner. If the government has reasons to ignore the reports, these should logically be put before people. Otherwise, citizens would believe that the government’s decisions are arbitrary or corrupt. Such a trust deficit would never be in the interest of the nation.
“The disclosure of the WGEEP report would enable citizens to voice their opinions with the information made available in the said report. Such opinions will be based on the credible information provided by an expert panel constituted by the government. This would facilitate an informed discussion between citizens based on a report prepared with their/public money.”
We hope the report will soon be given to Mr Krishnan by the MoEF. We will keep you posted.
(Vinita Deshmukh is the editor of Life 365 (www.life365.in). She is also the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book "To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of a Braveheart - Ashok Kamte" with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected])
Colours of the food can influence the perceived flavour, but what is alarming is the alacrity with which food colours are used for non-food applications and vice versa. How safe are food colours and how effective is the regulation in India?
Food colours are available as liquids, powders, gels, pastes. Colour additives are used to offset colour loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions and also intended to correct natural variations in colour. But how safe are food colours and how effective is the regulation in India?
Colours of the food can influence the perceived flavour. Sometimes the aim is to stimulate a colour that is perceived by the customer as natural or sometimes it is for effect. Off-colour foods are generally considered inferior in quality and so colours are added. Colours can also protect vitamins and flavours that may be affected by sunlight during storage. Usage of colours can enhance the natural colour of a dish and introduce decorative colours to other foods.
Specialty food ingredients typically preserve, texture, emulsify, colour, help processing, and in some cases, add an extra health dimension to produced food. These ingredients are essential in providing today’s consumer with a wide range of processed foods. Such specialty food colours help maintain or improve a product’s sensory properties like colour, taste and texture. Plain food products are presented with a fun colour aspect with natural or synthetic colours.
Natural food colour is any dye, pigment or any other substance obtained from vegetable, animal, mineral that is capable of colouring foods or drugs. Colours come from variety of sources like seeds, fruits, vegetables, algae and insects. The desired colour tinge can be obtained by bearing in mind crucial factors such as pH, storage conditions and the basic ingredients. Grass, beet root, turmeric are some of the natural sources from which colours are extracted. However, natural colours may not be suitable for high-heat applications.
Synthetic food colours are also called artificial colours. These are manufactured by chemical reaction and are commonly used in food and pharmaceutical industries. Colours that are prepared from previously certified batches of primary colours are called as Blended Food Colours. Blends can be made available to meet specific requirements of a customer in terms of shade and strength. Some of the common food colours are Tartrazine, Sunset Yellow, Amaranth, Allura Red, Quinoline Yellow, Brilliant Blue, Indigo Carmine and chocolate brown.
Packaging of food colours is equally important to preserve freshness and the desired quality. There are even pre-packed colours available that can be directly used in the final product formulation.
While synthetic colours are produced by a chemical reaction, some organisations extract natural colours from plant material using a modern process like super-critical fluid extraction. Such colours have a high shelf life and also the composition turns out to be more accurate. For instance, Curcumin 95 is a common natural colour that is produced from turmeric.
Due to consumer concerns around synthetic dyes, there is a tilt towards promotion of natural colours. Natural colours, generally, do not need certification by regulatory bodies throughout the world. Certified, synthetic colours are popular because they are less expensive but they are also effective in giving an intense and uniform colour. They can also blend easily to give a variety of hues.
Some natural colours do end up giving an unintended flavour to foods. They have also been reported to give certain allergic reactions.
To ensure reproducibility, the coloured components are provided in highly purified form; for increased stability and convenience, they can be formulated in suitable carrier materials like solids and liquids. Some standard food colourings use both synthetic and natural colours.
Natural dyes from plant products are popular but they come at a price. High quality colorants for the food industry comprise colours, lakes and pigments. In some cases, specialty fluorescent colours are also used by the food industry.
Colours that are insoluble in water are made by a chemical process called Lakes. An Aluminium lake, for instance, is produced by adsorption of water-soluble dye onto a hydrated aluminium substrate rendering the colour insoluble in water. The end product is coloured either by dispersion of the lake into the product or by coating onto the surface of the product. Lakes are more chemically stable than water soluble colours and can also produce brighter and vivid colours. These are suited for products containing oils and fats or in products that lack sufficient moisture to dissolve colours. The more finely ground the colour particles in a lake, the more effective the colour. This means that a high colour value is obtained by using a lake with minimum particle size. This can also lead to substantial cost savings. However, standardisation of lakes can pose a challenge as minor batch to batch variations are common in pigments.
Before any new ingredient is used in food, it must undergo a risk analysis and shown to be safe at its proposed levels of use. In addition to this and for some categories of specialty food ingredients (e.g. food additives), it must also be demonstrated that there is a real technological need—if this need cannot be established, then the substance will not be authorised for use in the European Union.
Food colourings are tested for safety by various bodies around the world; different bodies can have different views.
Amit Bharadwaj, CEO, Ajanta Colours says, “We are not into making natural colours because they are costly and even the Western countries are groping to address problems of stability with such colours. Most users are callow about the application of natural colours”. He adds that the innovative efforts are limited by the fact that manufacturers have to comply with the permitted list of colours stipulated by regulation. “As far as India is concerned, we are strong as a country that can manufacture colours. We have to meet the BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) in India, but we also need to follow the regulatory requirements in countries to which we are exporting the food colours. Whether it is natural or synthetic, the key thing is to meet the desired specifications of the product as stipulated by regulation. Even if there is a tilt towards natural products, if the desired specifications are not met, then this serves no purpose”, he concludes.
Srinivas Tilak, director, Mayur Colours says,” In Western countries there are a huge number of food colours that are available as compared to India. In India the regulatory restrictions are severe in that there are only few permitted colours like Tartazine, Brilliant Blue and Sunset Yellow. Within this framework, manufacturers dilute the colours using a base like Sodium Chloride. During the earlier days, pulverized sugar was used as the base”.
Organisations like the Mumbai-based Neelikon believe that it is important to develop a product anticipating potential regulatory changes and keeping in mind the need to excel in quality and purity standards. In food products, more than the purity (dye content), it is the impurities that are important says Satyen Turakia, Director-Marketing, Neelikon.
Colours & Controversy
Food colours have also been the subject of controversy in the West; for instance, Cochineal and carmine (also called carminic acid) are derived from an American insect. These colorants are used to impart a deep red shade to fruit juices, strawberry milkshakes and candies. Some synthetic colours have been reported to cause attention deficit hyperactive disorder in children. There have been number of studies on this subject. While the results have not been conclusive, they have certainly not been reassuring too.
“We are living in a world that is dictated by global norms and regulation—more so when you have to export food items. This is the reason we are earnest about meeting European food standards, KOSHER and OSHA certifications”, says Vijay Nair, marketing manager of Ahmedabad-based Nova International. He adds that Nova is in the forefront in meeting FCC (Food Chemicals Codex) norms.
Satyen Turakia says, “The dye content is the value of colour in a product. It is measured in terms of percentage of the active component. We can have 92% active colour and balance 8% can comprise of Sodium Chloride, Moisture, impurities”. He further adds, “The impurities fall into four categories—Dye intermediates, Insolubles, Metallics and Subsidiary dyes”.
Dye intermediates refer to un-reacted dye that remains in the end product. Insolubles refer to water insoluble contaminants. Metallic refers to lead, arsenic, mercury, iron, nickel and cadmium. Subsidiary dyes are generated due to secondary reactions between parent components of raw materials. So long as the non-active components are within permissible limits, they are okay. This shows that the chemical reaction has been able to control the production of non active components.
Mr Turakhia adds, “If we have 99% active colour and 1% is the lead contaminant, then this can be a serious hazard. But if we have 90% active colour component and balance are non active components like sodium chloride, metal, moisture, etc within the limits, then this is a safer proposition. We can dilute such a product with sodium chloride and make it as a product with 20% dye content”.
The key challenges according to Mr Turakhia are the increasing levels of complacency in China and India as compared to Western Europe, Japan and USA when it comes to regulatory compliance. “Unscrupulous suppliers end up spoiling the brand image of India by supplying inferior quality products. As far as India is concerned, there are no barriers with regard to food colours as there is no one to check the quality control, manufacturing facilities or competency of people involved in the manufacture of dyes. Purity of food colours have to be checked at the ppm (parts per million) level. But as is true with other industries, the enforcement of regulation is lax in India”.
What is alarming is the alacrity with which food colours are used for non-food applications and vice versa. Metanil yellow, which is not a food colour, is widely used in Mumbai and Gujarat for colouring food items and delicacies like Ghatia. The ubiquitous pan (betel leaf) is coloured with bright red/green non-food colours. In Jaipur, food colours are used for non-food application even though it is illegal. Moong dal (pulse) is glazed with Tartarazine, tea is given an artificial colour.
If there any casualties related to such indiscriminate use of non-food colours in food items, we do not know as there is no visibility in the mainstream media about such incidents. China, too, had grappled with milk adulteration, adulterated colours in pet food and tooth pastes in the not-too-distant past.
Mr Tilak adds, “This craze for natural colours is actually a Western influence. In reality, the natural colours do not disperse as well as the synthetic ones. They are also exorbitantly priced. The only natural colour that I know is Annato, the yellow colour that goes into Amul butter. Annato seeds are grown widely in Ratnagiri. They are similar to fenugreek seeds but have good colouring potential. Extraction of natural colours is done using oil or solvent.”
Adds Mr Turakhia, “Until two years back, there was a requirement for food colours to be sold with an ISI label. With that restriction removed, it has now become a free for all.”
“We made a few recommendations to the BIS but it has been five years, we are yet to receive a response, “says Mr Turakhia. “ Due to the lengthy process involved in getting new synthetic colours approved, we have kind of stayed away from new innovations”, he sums up.
The enforcement of regulation has to be stricter and the unorganised sector needs to be kept in check. Look at the irony of the situation. India has severe regulatory restrictions on food colours but also as many unscrupulous traders and trade practices. Some colours that are used during the Holi festival also get substituted as food colours. Now if this is not alarming, nothing else is. At the end of the day, no one has the right to play with the lives of others.
According to Libra India, the petitioner NGO, the land allotment to Suzlon was in violation of various acts pertaining to land allotment and valuable pastureland meant for animal grazing which cannot be given away to private companies
The Supreme Court has sought the Rajasthan government’s stand on a plea challenging the alleged allotment of pastureland, suitable for grazing of livestock, in Jaisalmer to Suzlon India for generating power through windmills.
A bench of justices Deepak Verma and SJ Mukhopadhyay also sought the state government’s reply, while also issuing notices to firms, Suzlon India and Wish Wind Infrastructures, on a plea seeking quashing of the land allotment on the ground that it is pastureland and cannot be used for industrial purposes.
The court order came on a petition by Libra India, a non-government organisation (NGO) challenging the allotment of land by the state government.
The NGO has come to the apex court against a Rajasthan High Court order, which had dismissed its plea against the land allotment and had also imposed a cost of Rs25,000 on it.
The high court had refused to interfere with the government’s decision after it was told that it is not grassland.
The petitioner alleged the land allotment was in utter violation of the Rajasthan Tenancy Act, Revenue Act, Panchayati Raj Act and other acts pertaining to land allotment and valuable pastureland meant for animal grazing cannot be given away to private companies.
Last year in December, the Rajasthan High Court while admitting the petition filed by Libra India, had issued notices to revenue department, district collector, Rajasthan Renewable Energy Corp (RREC) and the windmill companies with regard to the allotment of the common land, better known as 'charagah' land for establishing windmills in the district and had stayed the setting up of the windmills on this land.
However, the revenue department and the district collector told the HC that the land was referred as pasture land by mistake and they are rectifying the mistake through correspondence with the state government.