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Your vegetables are grown and cleaned in gutter water

Mid-day, Mumbai, Modified: January 28, 2013 16:56 IST

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Your vegetables are grown and cleaned in gutter water If you thought going green was a healthy option for your family, reading this expose and seeing these pictures will be an eye-opener.

Don't be too sure of the conventional wisdom of forcing green vegetables down your children's throats in the hope that they will keep them hale and hearty. Mid Day's findings about how these are grown and washed in farms across the city will make you flinch just the same as your kids when they are forced to gulp the greens.

Leafy vegetables, that occupy the crown position in a dietician's prescription, may be playing host to algae and faecal matter, and that is just what you see. What you get is worse. Under the microscope, these veggies have indicated the presence of bacteria and even parasites.

If you're wondering how this comes about, take a look at the water used to irrigate the vegetable farms. Mid Day studied how these vegetables are grown and washed in the city. This reporter visited farming spots in Thakurli and Kalwa, collecting samples of radish and spinach sold in markets, as well as the water used to tend and wash them.

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Picture 1: At the farming spots MiD DAY visited in Thakurli and Kalwa, we found that the plots are irrigated with water from pumps which draw it from mucky gutters that often contain sewage from nearby toilets.

Farmer.2_article.jpgPicture 2: After the harvest, the vegetables are washed in the same mucky ponds and gutters to 'clean' them


Farmer.3_article.jpgPicture 3: Lab reports confirmed our suspicions the water bodies being used for farming and washing are breeding grounds for a large number of parasites and bacteria including the deadly E coli. Pics: Shrikant Khuperkar


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The analysis from a municipal lab in Dadar confirmed that the water samples from the sites in these pics showed the presence of coliform and E coli bacteria

Many of these farms are along train tracks with an evidently questionable source of water - the drain nearby - which is downright poisonous for humans, as the lab reports suggested. Investigations also established the presence of the fatal E coli and yeast in the vegetables, among other contaminants that will make you blanch.


Farmer.4_article.jpgFarm site: Railway car shed area, Thakurli (W)
Area under cultivation: Over 5 to 6 acres of railway land
Vegetables grown: Radish, Spinach, Fenugreek (methi), Amaranth (chauli) Coriander (cilantro or dhania) etc
Markets: Mumbai (Dadar, Andheri, Bandra), Thane, Kalyan-Dombivli etc


What we saw

The farm is close to the Chola power plant, which was shut down in the 1993. Since charcoal was then used for producing power, the colour of soil at some places in and around the plant is still black. A dozen men and a woman were spotted scrubbing radish, spinach and fenugreek in a squalid artificial pond. A huge stack of farm produce lay beside each of them, as they cleaned the vegetables in the muddy water.

Waste water from a small hut and the toilet in it is discharged into the gutter which spews it into the pond. After being scrubbed and cleaned, the vegetables were placed on a gunny rag of jute. This is then wrapped and transported, without being cleaned any more.

A distance away, a hosepipe ran from an old diesel-driven water pump wrapped in plastic to the gutter. The impure water it discharged carried all sorts of waste including the carcass of a stray dog. Locals said that it was the only source of water for cultivation.


Locals say


Raju Maliya (60), and his wife Geeta (32) claim they took an acre for cultivation three years ago and a dozen or so men work with them. Other plots have a similar labour group. They are aware that the land belongs to the railways. They said they paid an annual rent of Rs 4,500 to a railway employee in Bhanushet, Thakurli.

Pointing to the drain, Raju said, "We do not get potable water and depend on this 'natural' source for cultivating and cleaning the produce. We do not put any chlorine in it. We know it is not clean but I guess it is okay. We eat the same food and have not fallen sick so far."

"In winter we usually grow radish, spinach and fenugreek. Summer is only for spinach. Business is bad in monsoons." Raju said they use pesticides and after spending a few hundred rupees on seeds and pesticides, they make around Rs 150-200 a day.

They work in three shifts from 6 am. The first lot of produces leave for Mumbai. The second shift starts around 10 am and the produce is sent to Thane and Vashi. The produce is sold at Rs 2-3 per piece to the retailer, who then sells it to you for Rs 6-10, depending on the size. In the evening, the produce is sent to areas in Dombivili and Kalyan.

"We know you want to expose us by showing how we use gutter water to grow leafy vegetables. But everybody across the railway tracks on central or western lines uses the same water. We are not doing anything wrong," said a local.

Farmer.5_article.jpgFarm site: Shivaji Nagar, Kalwa (E)
Area under cultivation: Over 2 acres of railway land and equally large private land
Vegetables grown: Radish, Spinach, Fenugreek (methi), Amaranth (chauli) Coriander (cilantro or dhania) etc
Markets: Mumbai (Dadar, Andheri) and Thane, Vashi etc


What we saw


The plots are irrigated with water from a diesel-run pump which draws it from a mucky gutter. The final produce is cleaned in the same pond near the station where local slum dwellers bathe and wash.


Locals say


Radhekrishna Chavan (37), who hails from UP, was spotted connecting a hosepipe to the gutter from where the water is drawn in. Chavan, a farmer for 16 years, said he paid Rs 20,000 yearly to the railways for his acre of land. Chavan said, "If coconut and mango trees can grow near dirty lakes, how bad can gutter water be for vegetables? The soil here is good and so is the output."

Santosh Yadav (40) said the pond water is not salty. "We do not have any other source of water. For years we have been using this water for our other chores as well." Farmer Ravindra Chauhan (40) said, "We try to take precautions, but at times even the companies manufacturing seeds and pesticides supply cheap quality products, which makes the output harmful for consumption. Unlike other farmers who get subsidies and training from the government, we do not get any such privileges. We picked the tricks of the trade from our fathers."


Railway speak


Chief PRO for the Central Railway, Vidyadhar Malegaonkar, said, "The railways, under the 'grow more food programme', has allotted these plots from its surplus land resources to gangmen for cultivation against a nominal fee. Though the cultivators are allowed farming, the ownership of land remains with the railways whose sole intention is to prevent encroachments on its properties." Asked if the farmers are given any basic farming tips for cultivation, he said, "Our business is not farming. Moreover, if people have any problem with the produce, they have a choice to got to the supermarket or other vendors."


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