Coming out of a slumber after thousands of farmers committing suicides or accidentally inhaling toxic pesticides, the Union Ministry of Agriculture on 8 August put out a gazette notification banning 18 neonicotinoid pesticides in the country. While 12 of them are banned with immediate effect, six will be phased out by December 2020. The notification bans all manufacture, import, formulate, transport, sell the pesticides listed. It all specifies that all certificates that anyone holds to sell these pesticides be returned within three months. “Every state government shall take such steps under the said Act (Insecticides Act, 1968)..,” read the notification.
While there are 104 pesticides that are used in India but are banned in other countries, the Central government’s is reviewing only 66 pesticides of them. “This is a good start, but in the same breathe I would like to say that we are disappointed,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, the lead petitioner in a Supreme Court public interest litigation, looking into pesticides violating the right to life of farmers and agricultural workers.
In 2013, some 23 children died when their mid-day meal was cooked in the same vessel that used for storing monocrotophos. In 2017, of the 40 who died in Yavatmal due to accidental inhalation of pesticides, 12 were died by inhaling monocrotophos.
Earlier this week, the California Superior Court ruled that Roundup, which contains glyphosate, was the cause of cancer for Dewayne Johnson, a school groundskeeper. It ordered Monsanto, the manufacturer of the weedicide, to pay $289 (US dollars) million in damages. In India, glyphosate is the most commonly used weedicide.
According to the Directorate Of Plant Protection, Quarantine and Storage, 148 of the 414 metric tonnes of weedicides consumed in the country in 2014-15 was glyphosate. In 2015-16, a little more than 370 metric tonnes of monocrotophos was used on Indian soil.
Both these pesticides do not figure in the list in the notification. “It looks like the authorities chose the pesticides, many of which were already on their way out. With delays up to two years, the pesticide industry had enough time to clear their stock,” said Kuruganti.
The gazette notification does not mention how banned pesticides will be recalled from shops and dealers, and how the government intends to dispose of them. Anupam Verma, who leads the committee that reviews the list of 66 pesticides and their usage in the country said that this was the first time that such a large number of pesticides were being banned at one go. The last time a pesticide ban made news was when endosulfan was banned by the Supreme Court after it reviewed the toxic effects in Kerala. “We did discuss a few strategies while reviewing the list. The steps (to remove existing stock from dealers) should have been taken much earlier. It is the responsibility of Registration Committee to implement the ban successively,” he told Firstpost. “For the effective implementation of the notification, the government must ask the pesticide industry to recall the pesticides banned with immediate effect from their dealers and dispose of the entire stocks following the guidelines of the Ministry of Environment and Forests for the disposal of hazardous waste,” Verma said.
Activists from Greenpeace India questioned the seemingly arbitrary selection of 18 pesticides out of the official list of 66. “We appreciate the government stand of banning 12 deadly pesticides with immediate effect and six more in the coming two years. But why out of 66 universally banned pesticides, have only 18 been banned that too after almost five years of commissioning and three years after the submission of the Anupam Verma committee report?” asked Sehar Iqbal, the manager food for life campaign, Greenpeace India. “The current ban leaves out monocrotophos and glyphosate, which still leaves farmers, farm workers and rural families (especially children) at risk and poisons the soil affecting farmer livelihoods, not to mention seriously compromising the health of consumers,” she said.
SK Malhotra, Agriculture Commissioner at the Department of Agriculture and Family Welfare, leads a committee to review the suggestions made by the Anupam Verma committee. He was not available for a comment, despite several attempts. The staff at the Ashish Kumar Bhutani, the joint secretary who signed the notification said: “Though he signed the notification, he is not directly working on the issue.” Aparna Deshpande, the assistant executive director at the Pesticides Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India (PMFAI) also refused to comment.
While the latest available data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows that nearly 24,000 people killed themselves using insecticides, a study by the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention puts the number at 92,000. “A large proportion of pesticide suicides are impulsive, with a person contemplating suicide for less than 10 minutes. If a person is prevented from using a highly lethal method, they may use a method with lower lethality, with an increased chance of survival, or the suicidal impulse may pass,” reads their expert submission to Malhotra.
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Updated Date: Aug 16, 2018 17:33:35 IST