Avinash Kakade, 53, has launched a pan India anti-adulteration movement, ‘Vishmukta Anna, Rog Mukta Sharir’ (toxin-free food, disease-free body). A dedicated Congress party worker for the last three decades, he started his political career under the guardianship of former Karnataka chief minister Ramkrishna Hegde. It was while working on agrarian issues as in-charge of All India Kisan Congress that Kakade came across several issues related to farm and diary produce, leading to this latest socio-political movement.
Kakade, a commerce graduate with BEd degree, did not have to look far for guidance in his political journey as his uncle Sambhaji Kakade was a two-time parliamentarian and also won the state assembly election a numbers of times.
Q. What is ‘Vishmukta Anna, Rog Mukta Sharir’ (toxin-free food, disease-free body) all about?
A. I came across issues of crop production, pricing, sales and related policies and problems as in-charge of All-India Farmers Cell of the Congress over a considerable period. The motto of my current movement is to ensure consumers are made aware about the grave issues of food adulteration, toxic elements, and related health complications. World Health Organization (WHO) studies point out that 60-70 crore of the global population would be affected by various diseases. In Delhi alone, around 12 lakhs population is suffering from chronic diseases like cancer and diarrhoea.
Q. What motivated you to take up the movement?
A. Food adulteration is set to unleash havoc if citizens are not woken up with education, advocacy and awareness. Everyone projects that tobacco causes cancer but the threat from toxicity in food and adulteration is much more lethal. Some 17 crore litre of milk is produced in India every day but 67 crore litre is consumed in different forms, whether in sweets and other eatables. From where does the excess milk come? It is being produced using harmful chemicals, which poison the body, inducing diseases.
Q. How adulterated and toxic is our food?
A. The “protein-rich” milk may often mean it contains nitrogen-based chemical melamine, which can cause diseases like kidney stones. Unscrupulous traders also blend starch, shampoo, caustic soda and such chemicals to make milk look fresh and thick. They also use corrosive materials in milk to ensure it can be stored for long. Similarly, cows and buffaloes are fed BT cotton seeds and cakes to increase milk production, which is banned in most developed countries. Edible oil too is blended with other substances to increase it’s quantity. Government policy allows such adulteration or blending up to 40% for packed products.
Q. How will you direct your movement towards toxin-free farm produce?
A. We are trying to spread awareness among citizens about toxicity in the food, and harmful effects of genetically modified seeds. Most bright and shining brinjals in the market may have originated from genetically seed varieties produced with the help of worms. The genetically modified seeds of tomato are being produced with the help of the genes of ‘Bangda’ fish. Several other harmful chemicals are used to genetically produce vegetables in more quantity, which also appears ‘farm fresh’ for a considerable time. There is a no mechanism in place to check and test genetically produced seed varieties. These issues need to brought in the public forum for debate, and create mass mobilization through a dedicated movement.
Q. How has the government faltered in proliferation of such adulterated and toxic foods and farm produce in the market?
A. Government has mostly failed to address farmer issues and agrarian crisis, which has increased malpractices like adulteration and use of genetically modified seeds without checks and balances. There are no laboratories to test foods and farm produces coming to the market. The government needs to put in place a proper mechanism so consumers can decide what food or farm produce they want to consume. Similarly, there is no system to ensure justice for farmers. The sector is plagued with chaotic mismatch.
Q. What are the legal norms on food adulterations, are they being enforced?
A. The Supreme Court has interpreted Article 21 for Right to Life as inclusive of right to pure food and health while deciding a landmark case. The laws and regulations are in place but there is dearth of political will to enforce them to protect interest of consumers, which is our basic area of thrust. As per Article 47, it’s one of the duties of the state to raise level of nutrition and standard of living. Food adulteration is also a crime as per the Indian Penal Code (IPC 272 and 273), but the punishments should be enhanced as the existing six months imprisonment and fine of Rs1,000 may not be deterrent enough.
Q. How are you going about the goal of making the society free of adulterated and toxic food?
A. We began the journey from Wardha three months ago through public meetings, lectures and awareness sessions at schools and colleges. We are trying to motivate students to join the movement as volunteers to conduct surveys and understand public opinion on adulteration related issues, and their demands. A mobile app is also being developed to enrol members and supporters. Our aim is to raise awareness and fight the evil with right information and knowledge through sustained campaigns. Also, we want to create pressure on the government to formulate policies and enforce laws so the society can enjoy cleaner food and our future generations can live a healthier life.
(Avinash Kakade is a socio-political activist campaigning to stop adulteration in food)