ROQUE DIAS | NT
With the state Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) having no control over the fruit markets, wholesalers fearlessly sell unchecked, damaged and artificially-ripened fruits in Margao on a daily basis thus risking the health of Goans.
According to sources, everyday early morning at Pedda in Margao, around 300 to 350 fruit wholesalers sell fruits brought from various places in Karnataka like Hubballi and Belagavi and also from parts of Maharashtra doing a business of roughly Rs 5 lakh. Their business activity commences as early as 4.30 am and is carried on till around 7 in the morning.
Many of these wholesalers have their own godowns in the heart of the town at places like the Gandhi Market, Khareband and Aquem. They do brisk business mostly during the summer when a variety of mangoes hit the market and both, locals and tourists easily fall prey to the malpractices of these wholesalers when they buy these fruits from the fruit vendors. Sources said that fruit vendors, fruit shop owners and hand cart operators across the talukas of Salcete and Quepem buy fruits from these wholesalers.
After purchasing the artificially-ripened fruits from the wholesalers, the local vendors andA hand cart operators later sell these fruits in the villages to eke out a living. When artificially-ripened fruits – bananas, papayas, chikoo, mangoes, apples etc are bought and kept at home for a day, they start rotting.
A few regular fruit buyers informed this daily on Saturday that the fruits they buy, especially bananas, often soften in patches and when the skin of a banana that has softened in patches is peeled, at the particular spots the fruit is found rotten from inside. “If the bananas are sold fresh, why don’t they last even for a day? The story is the same even with the semi-ripened bananas. They get spoiled in patches when brought home,” fumed Jacinta Fernandes, a resident of Navelim. She said that the FDA authorities should check the fruits sold in the Margao markets and take necessary action.
“What is the use if we cannot get good fish and fruits in Goan markets even after paying heavily for them? It is time for the people to revolt…I work hard for the whole month and when I go and spend my money and buy fruits, I am compelled to eat all artificially-ripened fruits. I say this because the fruits ripened in a natural way last for at least four days. The fruits that we currently buy from Margao and Fatorda fruit and vegetable markets last only for a few hours. Goans should come forward to show the real Goenkarponn. We cannot allow ourselves to consume these chemically-ripened fruits,” said another angry citizen of Margao Vinay Borkar.
This reporter and photographer visited the Gandhi Market on Saturday where fruits are sold on movable handcarts and purchased a dozen bananas costing Rs 40 around 12.30 in the afternoon. The skin of the bananas appeared to be damaged and black in colour and when a banana was peeled, it was found to be half rotten. “The bananas were brought yesterday,” the vendor said when the reporter insisted on knowing when the bananas were
purchased by him in bulk quantity. After reaching the office, within two and a half hours, the full banana that was peeled turned yellow. By 5 pm, the skin of all the bananas had turned black and when peeled they smelled of a chemical.
According to experts and sources in the FDA, bananas ripened in a natural way last at least for four days. This strengthens the doubts of citizens that chemicals are used to ripen bananas.
Gandhi Market Vendors’ Association chief Rajendra Azgaonkar, however, said that all the fruits sold in the market are of good quality and brought from locals.
According to sources, fruits are artificially ripened in two ways. Firstly, calcium carbide powder is sprayed in the corners and other places of a room where the fruits are stocked. Once the powder is sprayed, it immediately reacts with the atmospheric moisture and releases carbide gas, which is toxic and carcinogenic. This gas helps ripen the fruits but the harmful deposits of the gas remain on the fruits. This is mostly done in the godowns during late night. The fruits are kept overnight to ripen and early morning they are brought for sale by the wholesalers. These forcefully ripened fruits look fresh for a whole day but the very next day, they get discoloured and start rotting.
The second method used to artificially ripen fruits is the use ethephon, a plant growth regulator. Fruit wholesalers normally make use of this chemical by mixing a bottle cap full of quantity in a bucket full of water and then dip the fruits in the bucket for 15 seconds and later leave the fruits for drying. “Only 2 PPM of this chemical is permitted for use. I am confident that those using it will be using quantity more than 2 PPM. Therefore, it is risky,” the source said.
People of South Goa are helplessly forced to eat these artificially-ripened fruits, thus risking their health. There is no system yet in place with the FDA to check whether the cheating is done at the godowns or at the transportation stage.
“Godowns of these wholesalers must be checked first. Then the sites from where the fruits are brought here should be checked. This has to be done over and over again till fear is instilled in those cheating. People who sell the fruits in retail usually are not aware of this cheating but the people who buy from the vendors are the ones who suffer. Most of these wholesalers are outsiders,” said president of the New Market Vendors Association Vinod Shirodkar.
The Margao municipal council (MMC) also seems to be not bothered to act. Market inspectors were never seen clearing the fruit-flooded road that is being literally blocked by the wholesalers. “I will obtain a report from the market inspectors,” chief officer Siddhivinayak Naik said. He, however, added that the FDA has to crack down on the wholesalers and the MMC has no role to play whatsoever.
Sources in the FDA agreed that such artificial-ripening of the fruits is undertaken primarily because the fruits grown in the state do not meet the consumers’ demand and hence more fruits from outside the state are brought here. “We have to nab them within the first two hours of the incident. Many a time, it is difficult to get a clue and reach at the spot quickly. However, we carry out periodic raids,” maintained an official.