Estate workers see red over bogus rice
Upcountry estate workers are being enticed by traders to buy glossy “polished red rice” unaware that they are buying rice dyed red that is unfit for consumption.
They are being cheated into paying more for this rice: normal red rice sells at Rs. 65 a kilo but they pay Rs. 70 for the so-called polished rice.
“When we wash the rice at home the water turns red and our hands become stained,” Ganamoorthy Kandasamy, a Hatton resident, said.
His experience is shared by several others in Hatton, Nuwara Eliya and Bandarawela. He said the smell is better than the usual rice, an added temptation to buy it.
The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has collected samples from shops in Nuwara Eliya and is awaiting a report from the Government Analyst but residents complain action is too slow and the racket continues unabated.
Investigations by the Sunday Times reveal most of the rice is coming in from Batticaloa, Samanthurai, Ampara and Kalmunai.
Nuwara Eliya MP M. Thilakaraja has received a number of complaints and said he passed them on to the CAA.
“I have identified the name of the company and complained to the Consumer Rights Authority, the police and the local government and yet nothing has been done,” he said.
He said health authorities should take action as he is concerned about the estate workers.
The CAA said it had carried out a raid late last year and had taken court action against offenders. CAA Assistant Director Nazeer Mohomad Shariff said his officers had taken random samples from shops in Nuwara Eliya and were waiting for reports from the Government Analyst.
A Nuwara Eliya CAA official blamed delays by the Government Analyst for the delay in taking legal action that is giving suspects a chance to erase evidence.
Government Analyst Anusha Warnasuriya said her office usually sends back reports within one-and-a-half months and that samples submitted last week by the CAA were still being studied.
The All-Island Farmers’ Federation (AIFF), pointing out the CAA is too slow in taking action even though instances of dye in rice had been detected, is set to complain to the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID).
“The water turns red when people wash the rice,” the JVP-backed union’s National Organiser, Namal Karunaratne said, adding that consumers were wary of buying rice and the matter was aggravated by the fact that outdated stocks of rice were reaching markets.
“This red rice is bad but is polished a glossy red and so people fall for it and are paying high prices for it”, he said. He said the union had also complained the CAA about the racket and added that a mafia operated the rice market.