Agra's petha industry faces tough time due to new pollution norms
Apart from the Taj Mahal, Agra is also known for a sugar-boiled delicacy made out of a fruit called 'petha'.
The name 'Panchhi Petha' has become synonymous to Agra's petha industry and the sweet, which originated in the royal kitchen of Mughal Emperor Jahangir according to a legend, sells by several tonnes every month from Agra alone.
But with the growing concerns about pollution in Agra and the resultant restrictions on the usage of fossil fuels in the region, the future of this famous sweet appears bleak. The drying up of the Yamuna river is also playing a major role in systematically destroying this industry which is worth hundreds of crores yearly.
Noori Darwaza locality, which is the mainstay of this industry, is on the verge of being deserted by the petha makers as environmentalist Dr. Devashish Bhattacharya actively campaigns to get this industry shifted to a new location away from the city.
Talking to India Today, Dr. Bhattacharya said that the petha industry is the primary reason for several tonnes of organic waste being generated in the city in the form of petha waste. Most of this waste takes days before it is disposed of by the municipal authorities and consequently, it gives birth to several skin and respiratory diseases.
Dr. Bhattacharya, who is an ENT surgeon, appeared especially concerned about the extensive use of bleaching agents like calcium carbonate in the petha manufacturing process, besides the widespread burning of coal to cook the petha in a sugar solution. He said that the petha is a diabetic's nightmare as it is almost entirely made up of sugar, with the petha fruit adding the barest of fiber to it.
He said that following his campaign against this industry's use of coal and the vast amounts of organic waste it was generating inside the city, the local administration has sketched a plan to get the industry shifted across the Yamuna river in a new enclave. However, the industry is adamantly refusing to move, creating a difficult situation and leaving only one resort before the administration - to forcibly remove them from the city.
Putting forth the industry's stand on this issue, petha industry representative Lala Ram Gopal told India Today that the use of gas in cooking the petha in sugar solution will be prohibitively expensive and result in a rise in the prices of Agra petha. This will give a distinct edge to the competing petha industries in other cities and they will overthrow Agra from the position of the 'petha city' of India in no time. He said that with the restrictions on the use of coal in the city has already affected the petha production which has gone down to merely 15-20 percent.
O P Sharma, whose family has been engaged in this industry since the past 100 years, said that his kids are not ready to enter this industry now, considering the low income and the number of hassles in operating this industry. He said that gas connections for the industry are very difficult to obtain and a lot of families who had been traditionally engaged in this industry, have given up the struggle and shifted to other businesses or left the city.
Agra Divisional Commissioner K Ram Mohan Rao told India Today that the Agra administration has already established a Petha Nagri in Kalindi Vihar across the Yamuna, but the industry leaders are resisting the move, claiming that there are some infrastructural deficiencies in that enclave. He said that the administration is seriously looking into the matter and all these deficiencies, as pointed out by the administration, will be rectified soon.
Meanwhile, he said, the petha unit operators have been asked to furnish an affidavit, affirming that they are not using coal in producing the petha. Also, in compliance to the Supreme Court orders of 1996, the petha industry has been asked to desist from using any polluting fossil fuels in their units and obtain CNG or LPG connections as soon as possible.