Food adulteration remains a serious health hazard largely ignored by government authorities for years. Indeed, the situation has worsened in recent times with sub-standard and adulterated food items of mass consumption coming to affect a large segment of the State’s population. This is akin to slow poisoning, and health experts attribute many ailments due to constant exposure to adulterated food items. The irony is that the situation persists even though there is increased access to information and enhanced public awareness today. Among the most adulterated food products in the State happen to be those ranging from pulses, milk, meat and packaged water to fruits and vegetables. There have been the occasional seizures of spurious and adulterated foodstuff but that is little consolation given that it is chiefly the widely consumed items that continue to be most vulnerable to adulteration. While the Northeast has traditionally been a happy dumping ground for all sorts of spurious and sub-standard goods, the peril amplifies manifold when it involves foodstuff of mass consumption. Even vegetables and fruits are not spared by the unscrupulous growers and traders, with the practice of injecting toxic substances to make those mature in quick time and also to look bigger and fresh being widespread. Officials claim that of late there has been better enforcement of the State Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, but there is obviously a need for a more stringent and efficient deterrent mechanism. The State requires more state-of-the-art labs, including mobile labs, for testing and analysing adulteration of food articles.

It is against this backdrop that the Gauhati High Court’s directive to the Central Government to frame appropriate rules for regulating the open availability of calcium carbide – an agent widely used to ripen fruits prematurely – assumes significance. The court further asked the State Government to monitor the activities of the food safety officers towards their requirement of complying with the directions of this order. That the court had to tell the government authorities concerned to crack down hard on the adulterators exposes the laxity of the government machinery. When people are compelled to consume poisoned food in spite of spending a major part of their income on food due to spiralling price rise, it is a case of grave lapse in governance. Since food adulteration negates the prospects of healthy living, it has to be viewed as a serious threat to human life itself. The Government, which is under a constitutional obligation to safeguard people’s lives, has a big role to play to check this criminal act. It needs to be ensured that every stage from production and packaging to marketing and sale is scrutinized for violation of any relevant norms. Even a stricter mechanism is required for foodstuff that is sold in the open.