Agra, March 20:
With the sealing of seven more units, the number of centres manufacturing Agra’s famous petha sweet that have been shut down for using coal has risen to 30.
The Wednesday night operation was a joint effort of the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board, the Agra Municipal Corporation and the district administration. It followed reports that the units making petha, a sweet candy made of gourd, were still using coal although they had given affidavits that they won’t do so.
An FIR lodged by pollution control board official Anand Kumar triggered the latest crackdown.
The still functional petha units in Agra’s Noori Darwaza area have downed their shutters protesting against the government action.
“At this rate, Agra’s petha manufacturers will go out of business,” fumed Ankur, a shopowner at Noori Darwaza, the chief petha bazaar in this Taj Mahal city, to IANS.
“We will be finished,” added Govind Prasad, another shopkeeper.
On Tuesday, Divisional Commissioner Pradeep Bhatnagar ordered firm action against the polluting units.
The Supreme Court had in 1996 banned the use of coal to produce petha as a fallout of a public interest litigation filed by lawyer and green activist M.C. Mehta. More than 500 petha units, employing over 50,000 workers, manufacture tonnes of petha each day in this city.
Rarely do visitors to Agra fail to pick up a packet or two of this sweet.
Nutritionists say that although high in sugar, the sweet candy is nourishing and cheap and low on fat.
The legend is that thousands of workers and craftsmen were given petha, an instant source of energy, while chipping in hot the Agra summers to raise the 17th century Taj Mahal, India’s biggest tourist draw.
Interestingly, the raw material for petha is not locally available.
The gourd is brought from Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and elsewhere. Only the expertise and skill for manufacturing the sweet are available locally, said Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.
In recent years, petha makers have experimented with new flavours, sizes and colours, besides attractive packing.
Earlier, there were just two or three varieties. Now there is sandwich petha, kesar petha, khas petha, orange petha, pineapple petha, coconut petha and other varieties.
Diabetics can get sugar-free petha too.
At the heart of the present controversy is the administration’s renewed effort to shift polluting units out of Agra.
The Agra Development Authority has developed a “Petha Nagri” and allotted plots to the units, but officials say the manufacturers are not keen on shifting.
A medical professional said: “These units have been polluting the area, adding to solid waste and releasing all kinds of toxic gases that combine with early morning fog to make life hell for the people.”
An official said that the units in 2002 filed affidavits claiming they were not using coal and had switched to liquefied petroleum gas.
“But investigation revealed that the use of coal was rampant,” he said. IANS