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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Gutter farm veggies adding slow poison to your platter

Grown Near Rly Tracks, They Contain Toxic Heavy Metals

Vijay Singh & Pratibha Masand TNN 

Mumbai: The next time you dig into that bowl of palak paneer, think of where the spinach comes from. The fact that many of the vegetables consumed by citizens are grown in 'gutter farms' near railway tracks—with sewage water being used for irrigation—may render your favourite dishes rather unpalatable. Despite a complaint being lodged with the Indian Railways, the dangerous trend of gutter farming is flourishing near the tracks. 
    Panvel resident Vishnu Gavali of the Iron Eagle V Group had conducted a chemical analysis of various vegetables grown using sewage water near railway tracks. The results showed an alarming presence of heavy metals like lead, copper, cobalt, chromium and in one instance, arsenic. "We had submitted the chemical analysis reports of vegetables taken from two farms near railway tracks in Navi Mumbai two years ago. However, gutter farms on railway land have only increased," said Gavali, who has urged the railway authorities to curb this practice immediately. 
    "If ignored, the issue will be akin to mass food poisoning as vegetables from gutter farms are sold in open markets in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane," Gavali added. 
    The railway officials, though, have a reply. V M Malegaonkar, chief public relations officer of Central Railway, said, "We hand over the land for cultivation to prevent encroachment. However, we do not keep a check on quality or 
the kind of water being used for cultivation. Our primary goal is to ensure that these vacant pieces of land belonging to railway are not encroached upon." 
    "Long term consumption of vegetables grown on sewage water can lead to early onset of Parkinson's disease, neuron degeneration, hearing and vision impairment and gastro-intestinal infections," said Dr Pradeep Mahajan, an Airoli-based expert in occupational diseases and trauma surgery. 
    Gutter farms along the tracks can be seen not only on the Harbour Line, but also along the main Western and Cen
tral railway stations. The diesel-run water pumps sourcing the filthy, putrid drain water can also be easily spotted. 
    According to the report submitted to the railways in 2009, the arsenic concentration in a tested radish was 0.51 parts per million (ppm). The maximum permissible limit of this metal is 0.43 ppm as per World Health Organisation (WHO) standards. The radish also had 112 ppm of zinc, as against the standard of 50 ppm. 
    Some of the other leafy vegetables tested contained high density of chromium, cobalt, zinc, copper and other heavy metals. 

Times View 
P ossible encroachment of railway land is a far less serious hazard than putting the health of people at risk. Experts are unanimous that long-term consumption of these chemical elements can lead to serious disorders. It is the duty of Indian Railways to ensure that railway land is not to put to any use that may harm Mumbaikars. Perhaps, growing flowers instead of vegetables could be a better solution to the encroachment problem; it will also make the landscape along railway tracks look better. 

• Lead: 
May cause anaemia; blood, gastrointestinal and neuro-muscular disorders 

• Arsenic: 
Can lead to kidney and liver disorders and even paralysis 

• Copper: 
Can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and involuntary muscle movement 

• Mercury: 
Can lead to involuntary muscle movement and tremors

RED ALERT: Sewage water is used to rrigate gutter farms near railway tracks


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