Why permit Ethephon usage: HC asks Centre

Government told to file counter affidavit by Sept. 15 on chemical usage for artificial ripening of fruits; hearing on Sept. 17

August 28, 2020 10:59 pm | Updated 10:59 pm IST - HYDERABAD

Telangana High Court on Friday asked the Central government to explain how it had allowed usage of Ethephon, which has traces of insecticide and other chemicals, for artificial ripening of fruits.

Hearing a batch of PIL pleas and writ petitions on usage of chemicals for ripening fruits, the HC said long term usage of Ethephon was likely to cause cancer in human beings. Would the government be happy if people contract cancer due to usage of such chemicals, a bench of Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy questioned.

In 2015, the then Hyderabad High Court for Andhra Pradesh and Telangana State suo motu took up newspaper reports on usage of calcium carbide for artificial ripening of mangoes and other fruits as a PIL petition. This year, another PIL plea was filed challenging usage of Ethephon for ripening of fruits.

Meanwhile, two traders filed writ petitions questioning registration of cases against them by the government for sale and distribution of Ethephon. They contended that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India permitted sale of Ethephon.

‘Why no counter?’

The bench sought to know from Assistant Solicitor General of India N. Rajeshwar Rao as to why no counter affidavit was filed on usage of Ethephon. Mr. Rao sought two weeks of time, stating that a memo was already filed.

Senior counsel S. Niranjan Reddy, who was appointed by the HC as amicus curiae in the PIL pleas, said laboratory tests confirmed that Ethephon had traces of insecticide and other chemicals.

Special Government Pleader Sanjeev Kumar, representing the State government, contended that Ethephon can be used in limited quantities. However, the State government decided to permit usage of En-Rype which has no ill-effects. Ethephon is not supposed to directly come in contact with the fruits.

Sachets of Ethephon would be kept in bunches of fruits for artificial ripening of the latter.

The bench sought to know from the ASG as to why the Centre was not confirming if Ethephon had traces of insecticide.

Cancer patients

The bench remarked that number of cancer patients in the country had gone up in the past three decades.

Senior lawyer D. Prakash Reddy, appearing for the traders, said the Ethephon sachets would release Ethylene gas which would ripen the fruits. This would not result in any harm, he said. The bench, disagreeing with the senior counsel’s contentions, said the possibility of the powder directly coming in contact with fruits during transportation, cannot be ruled out. While conceding that Ethephon should not directly come in contact with fruits, how can one say its usage is not harmful, the bench remarked.

Directing the Centre to file counter affidavit in the matters by September 15, the bench posted the pleas to September 17 for next hearing.

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