A free footwear scheme for some of the poorest in Madhya Pradesh has been suspended after a research institute's report that the shoes were lined with a potential cancer-causing chemical. The "Charan Paduka Yojana" was launched with much fanfare for tendu leaf farmers in the state ahead of elections due later this year.
After the Central Leather Research Institute reported that the shoes used "carcinogenic" azo dye in the inner sole, there were protests from the Opposition as well as tendu leaf collectors - who are the beneficiaries of the free footwear. Over two lakh shoes have been rejected after the report and their distribution has been suspended.
Tendu leaf collectors in Betul say that they are too scared to wear the shoes.
"The government has given free shoe, but I fear using it. Villagers are saying wearing them will cause cancer," Zila Parte, a villager told NDTV. Bindiya Bai, another villager, shares the same fear and has not touched the shoe for a month.
Environmentalists say that the shoes are dangerous and will even pollute the environment they are thrown in.
"Azo dye are aromatic amines that are usually used in leather and cotton industry. Its use can cause skin cancer and can also affect childbirth," said environmentalist Subhash Pandey.
"The azo dye is so dangerous that it can cause pollution in water and earth," he added.
The government started distributing these shoes on May 20, but sought a report a month later on June 17. A minister admitted that Azo dye was used but insisted that only shoes that were cleared in the test were distributed.
"Prior to their distribution, quality testing is conducted by two prestigious institutes of the country - the Footwear Design and Development Institute, Noida and Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai. A pre-delivery test is also conducted besides a re-test before distribution. The shoes that were distributed were of good quality," said Forest Minister Gauri Shankar Shejwar.
The opposition Congress has declared that it will carry out an independent inquiry and also take a legal action against the government.
"The footwear should be used by the Chief Minister himself before being distributed to the people. This is a case of carelessness and corruption," said Congress leader PC Sharma.
The state government claims to have distributed free shoes among 8.13 lakh men and 10.2 lakh women collectors of tendu leaves. They have also claimed to distribute water bottles and sarees among tribal tendu leaf collectors.
Madhya Pradesh will elect a new government in November.
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