Kerala High Court stops sale of Sabarimala prasadam over high pesticide level in the cardamom used

Court has, however, said temple authorities can make the prasadam without cardamom, or after testing a new batch.

BySouth First Desk

Published Jan 12, 2023 | 9:16 AMUpdatedJan 12, 2023 | 9:17 AM

Sabarimala temple pesticide cardamom

A spurned and aggrieved supplier of cardamom was the reason the Kerala High Court on Wednesday, 11 January, stepped in and directed the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) to stop the sale of the ‘Aravana Prasadam’ to devotees in Sabarimala.

The reason: Cardamom used in the preparation of the prasadam contained pesticides beyond the minimum permissible limit (MRL).

A bench comprising Justices Anil K Narendran and PG Ajithkumar issued the direction after some 14 pesticides were found in a chemical analysis of the cardamom that was procured by the TDB, which manages the Sabarimala shrine, from a Kollam-based supplier.

“If the cardamom supplied by the Kollam-based company does not meet the MRL prescribed under the regulations, it is unsafe as per the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, as was found in the report dated January 10, 2023, of the executive director, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India,” the court said.

“Under such circumstances, there will be an interim order restraining the Travancore Devaswom Board from selling Aravana Prasadam to pilgrims,” the court said.

“The Commissioner of Food Safety, through the Food Safety Officer at sannidhanam, shall take necessary steps to ensure that the Aravana Prasadam is not sold to pilgrims,” the Bench ordered.

Related: Perfect pit stops for pilgrims heading to Sabarimala

How did the issue reach court?

The high court direction came on a petition filed by a company called Ayyappa Spices.

A trader in cardamom, Ayyappa Spices had supplied the spice — a minor but key ingredient in the preparation of the Aravana Prasadam given to devotees — to the TDB during the Mandala-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season of 2021-22.

For the ongoing current season — 2022-2023 — the board had given the contract to a Kollam-based supplier “without competition and newspaper advertisement”, according to Ayyappa Spices, which also wanted the Kollam supplier’s cardamom to be tested.

The tests were done by the Government Analyst’s Laboratory in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram — an accredited laboratory of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) — which found the cardamom unsafe as it had pesticide levels beyond the permissible limit.

In court on Wednesday, the TDB argued that every “kootu” (preparation) of the Aravana Prasadam contains many ingredients, with rice and jaggery making up the bulk of the roughly 350 kg prepared at one time. In this, the TDB said, cardamom accounts for only 720 gm — a “negligible quantity”.

The board also argued as the Aravana Prasadam is prepared at temperatures of over 200 degrees, the presence of pesticides beyond MRL in a minor ingredient would not make it unsafe for consumption.

The Bench, however, disagreed, saying that when the contract was to supply 15,000 kg of cardamom, in terms of regulations under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, the spice had to meet the required safety standards.

Hence, the court said, “the TDB cannot be permitted to sell Aravana Prasadam made using that cardamom to the devotees” even if a single preparation contained only 720 gm of the condiment and even if it was cooked at temperatures over 200 degrees.

‘Make prasadam without cardamom’

The court, however, said that the TDB can make the prasadam without cardamom, or after procuring spice that meet the standards, ascertained by a test by the Government Analyst’s Laboratory in Thiruvananthapuram.

With the interim direction, the court listed the matter for further hearing on January 13.

Related: Court directions to Sabarimala authorities over increased footfall

Makaravilakku on 14 January

The annual pilgrimage to the famed Sabarimala temple in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala is currently in its second and final phase.

The 41-day first phase of the annual pilgrimage ended on 27 December, with lakhs of devotees seeking the blessings of Lord Ayyappa at the auspicious Mandala puja. The shrine was reopened on 30 December.

The main Makaravilakku ritual will be held on 14 January and the shrine would be closed on 20 January, signalling the end of the pilgrimage season.

It is estimated that over 30 lakh devotees visited the shrine in the first phase. At the beginning of the season that TDB had estimated the final figure may be in the range of 40 lakh visitors this season.

(With inputs from PTI)