Akeel Rashid

Horticulture dept fails to keep synthetic colours, ripening agents in check

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‘90% apple stock at Sopore Mandi colour-sprayed’

Sopore: The much-hyped drive by the Horticulture department to check the use of synthetic colour-sprays for early variety apples has fallen flat as almost ninety percent of apple reaching Sopore Mandi in the month of July has been sprayed with the synthetic colours and ripening agents.

According to the data provided by the merchants in Fruit Mandi Sopore, more than 6 lakh apple boxes have arrived in Fruit Mandi in the month of July. On an average 25,000 boxes reach here every day, said Nazir Ahmad, a fruit merchant at Fruit Mandi Sopore.

Interestingly, earlier this month Director Horticulture, while talking to this newspaper, had claimed that the government had enforced a complete ban on the use and sale of synthetic colours since 2017.

“A few days ago, it came to my notice that the sale and use of synthetic colours was rampant. I have directed all the Chief Horticulture Officers to confiscate the stock,” Manzoor Ahmad Qadri had told ‘Kashmir Images’.

“I have also requested the law enforcement wing of the Agriculture department to conduct regular inspections and seize these chemicals,” he had claimed.

When ‘Kashmir Images’ spoke with some growers in north Kashmir, they refuted Director’s claims and termed it a “brazen lie”, adding “not even a single variety of apple is free from synthetic colour sprays”

While the merchants and commission agents in Fruit Mandi Sopore stonewalled the queries with regard to the widespread use of synthetic colours, the growers however confessed that spraying with chemical ripening agents and synthetic colours was a norm and that it continues unabated.

“This is a brazen lie that the Horticulture department had initiated any checks and curbs,” growers say.

“I have transported around 100 boxes of early variety apples to Sopore Mandi and all of them were sprayed with synthetic colours,” confessed a grower in Sopore adding that almost every other grower in the area had does it.

“It is a standard practice to colour-spray the early variety apples,”  he added.

Another grower, Tanveer Lone, from Pattan said there is no ban on the sale of synthetic colours.

“You can visit any pesticide shop in Pattan area and it is easily available. If the government has banned the sale and use of synthetic colours, then how is it easily available in the market?” asked Lone.

While the pesticide dealers in North Kashmir seemed reluctant to comment about the issue, they however, on further prodding, confirmed that they sell colours to their regular customers, but are  wary of selling it to the strangers.

A cursory analysis of the financial aspects involved in the trade of synthetic colours seems indicative of a potential scandalous nexus between the officials of the concerned department and the pesticide dealers.

“This season I sold the synthetic colours for almost one lakh rupees which is its average sale,” confessed a dealer from Sopore.

The fruit growers of South Kashmir who claim to not resorting to such practices, say it is due to the shorter shelf life of the early variety fruits grown in North which compels the growers and dealer to use synthetic colours. Fruit grown in South Kashmir is of superior quality and needs no such treatment, they claim.

“The apple of Shopian has got impressive shelf life and is very hard while apple of North Kashmir, particularly the early varieties, have less shelf life. Besides, it is very soft which is why growers in Sopore and other areas spray the early variety apples with synthetic colours so as to augment their ripening process,” said Malik Tabish, a fruit grower in Shopian.

“The early variety apples in South Kashmir do not require synthetic colours as we prefer to wait for their natural ripening,” another grower, Zeeshan Ahmad from Pulwama told ‘Kashmir Images’.

Director Horticulture, Manzoor Ahmad Qadri, when contacted for his response, seemed to have no answers and instead chose to reply by posing a question to the reporter- "How do you know?," he asked!

Interestingly, the Horticulture department has deployed an Area Marketing Officer (AMO) at the Fruit Mandi Sopore. But it remains a mystery as to why the AMO has not informed the Director about the widespread use of synthetic colours in the area.

When informed about the growers confessing use of synthetic colours, Qadri said, "It has been banned and our inspectors have also inspected the pesticide dealers but we did not find anything."

Then, he went on to add: "it is also the responsibility of Director Enforcement of Agriculture.”

Director, Law Enforcement Agriculture, Abdul Rahim Samoon, said that the Commissioner Secretary Agriculture had formed a team of at least 200 Horticulture department officials who were given “tremendous powers” to curb the menace.

“They can draw samples and send the same to a laboratory and in case of any violation can take appropriate action,” said Samoon.

“But if the enforcement wing of Horticulture is not taking action against the violators, what can my department do about it?” he added.

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