The Kerala High Court, on Wednesday, directed the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) to not sell 'Aravana Prasadam' in Sabarimala as the cardamom used in the preparation contained pesticides beyond the minimum permissible limit (MRL).
The direction by a Bench of Justices Anil K Narendran and P G Ajithkumar came following the detection of around 14 pesticides in the chemical analysis of the cardamom procured by the Board from a Kollam-based supplier.
The Government Analyst’s Laboratory in Thiruvananthapuram and the accredited laboratory of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), after testing the cardamom, found it to be unsafe.
The cardamom was tested on a plea by a company, Ayyappa Spices, which had supplied the condiment to the TDB during the Mandala-Makaravilakku pilgrimage season of 2021-22 and was aggrieved that the Board gave the contract for 2022-23 to a Kollam-based supplier "without competition and newspaper advertisement".
When the matter was heard during the day, the Board contended that in one 'kootu' (preparation) for the 'Aravana Prasadam', there are several ingredients like rice, jaggery, among others, of approximately 350 kg and the quantity of cardamom in it is only 720 gm.
It argued that as the end-product contained only a negligible quantity of cardamom and the prasadam is prepared at a temperature of above 200 degrees, the presence of pesticides beyond MRL in the condiment would not make the sweet-dish unsafe for consumption.
The Bench, however, disagreed with the Board, 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 condiment had to meet the standards.
"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, FSSAI," the court said.
It said once the condiment was found to be non-conforming to the standards laid down in the regulations, "the TDB cannot be permitted to sell Aravana Prasadam made using that cardamom to devotees" even if in one ‘kootu’ the quantity of cardamom was only 720 gm and prepared at a temperature of above 200 degrees.
"Under such circumstances, there will be an interim order restraining the Travancore Devaswom Board from selling Aravana Prasadam to pilgrims.
"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.
It, however, said that the Board can make the prasadam without cardamom or after procuring those which meet the standards upon obtaining a test report from the Government Analyst’s Laboratory, Thiruvananthapuram.
With the interim direction, the court listed the matter for further hearing on January 13.