Unsafe, yet holi colour industry growing at 15%


Virendra Singh Rawat New Delhi/ Lucknow
The multi-crore holi colour industry in Uttar Pradesh continues to grow almost 15 per cent year-on-year, even as safer variants such as herbal gulal are consolidating their market pie.
The holi colour manufacturing units are mainly located in Hathras district of western UP. Some units are also based in Kanpur and Mathura. Hathras caters to the demand from other parts of the country during Holi and for occasions round the year.
This unorganised sector has little quality control checks and monitoring, a senior Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) official told Business Standard.
Although the demand for herbal gulal has also gone up in recent times, most units continue to sell synthetic colours due to the cheaper raw material, popular demand and easy method of preparation. Herbal gulal is an eco-friendly, natural dye, mostly available in four colours yellow, pink, sandalwood and green in jasmine, rose, sandal and khus fragrances.
Rang Rasayan Vyapar Mandal, Hathras Secretary Ashok Varshnay said the sale of holi colours, including gulal, continues to grow every year and was posting almost 10-15 per cent annual growth.
The Mandal has about 20 members affiliated to it and the collective turnover is worth several crore.
The base powder for holi colours is mainly sourced from Andhra Pradesh. Then starch (sometimes corn flour), colour pigment and water is added to prepare a mixture, which is dried and ground into a powdery form. This ground mixture is again dried and perfume added for fragrance.
"This year, we have purchased loose herbal gulal from another local unit and are selling it after repackaging in smaller units for the end-user," Hathras-based Shakti Enterprises proprietor Devendra Kumar Goyal said.
Nonetheless, scientists warn about the harmful impact of synthetic dye-based colours saying they can cause dermatitis, respiratory problems and allergies.
Prolonged application can even cause cancer, according to Mukul Das senior scientist at the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR).
Varshnay, however, clarified that the units in Hathras produced safe holi colours based on harmless base material such as starch and corn flour. "Those colours, which are based on sand and soil are mostly harmful for skin."
The industrial town of Kanpur has about 5 units manufacturing holi colours. Surendra Goldie of the Goldie Masale Group said their unit was producing almost 125 kgs of herbal gulal per day and the production would continue till March 22.
"The demand has been good this year for herbal gulal, which is tested at our in-house laboratory for safety," he added.
However, the truth remains that a majority of colours used in Holi are synthetic dyes of non-food commodities such as textile, paper and leather.
"Some unscrupulous traders mix chemical dyes to base material such as starch, wheat flour and mica dust to prepare cheap quality fragrant dyes," Das lamented.
Some colours contain traces of lead and cadmium, "Scientific tests have verified these cause skin abrasions, skin and eye irritation, allergy and can even trigger asthma," the scientist warned.
A lot of harmful chemicals are used to prepare synthetic dyes like Rhodamine-B (for pink/red), Malachite (green), methyl-violet (violet), Orange II (orange) Auramine (yellow).
National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow has already developed herbal gulal and has transferred its technology to at least three firms based in Hathras and Sakti (Chhattisgarh) for commercial production.
The NBRI herbal gulal has been promoted as eco-friendly, non-toxic, soft and natural. It is perfumed with selected natural aroma to lift mood and improve lustre of skin.
Meanwhile, the holi colours have made debut at city malls with retail chains stocking packs of gulals being sold in small packets of 50 gms.
The traditional markets of Aminabad, Hazratganj, Niralanagar, Mahanagar, Nishatganj and Sadar have roadside shops and kiosks vending gulal, holi colours and even paints upward of Rs 5 per packet.

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First Published: Mar 22 2008 | 12:00 AM IST

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