Yavatmal farmer deaths: Maharashtra govt's move to ban five pesticides for 60 days not enough, say experts

Just nine days after the Maharashtra government ordered a SIT investigation into the deaths of over 30 farmers due to pesticide poisoning in Yavatmal and adjoining districts, the state government may also ban five major pesticides for 60 days.

The five pesticides that have come under the scanner are Profenophos 40% + Cypermethrin 4% EC, Fipronil 40% + Imidacloprid 40% EC, Acephate 75% SC, Difenthiron 50% WP and Monochrotophos 36% SL, Hindustan Times reported on Friday.

The report said that the agricultural department has invited suggestions and objections before implementing the order.

However, the idea of a mere 60-day ban over the five controversial pesticides could come under scrutiny.

"This ban won't work as people at the ground level are not aware which of the pesticides will be banned," Paromita Goswami, a tribal activist in Maharashtra's Chandrapur district told Firstpost. The activist said that the limited period of the ban does not deter the farmers from using the pesticides once again.

"A complete withdrawal of all pesticide products in the market is needed. The government must also seize and dispose all these products. If this does not happen, then farmers will continue using the same pesticides even after the ban is lifted," Goswami said.

Akshay Chakravarthy, an entomologist at the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research, too was not enthusiastic about a two-month ban, adding that the government must rather ban them for a longer period of time.

"The government must ban these pesticides for at least six months, conduct a pilot study on these plots of land to investigate the problem and then take a final decision," Chakravarthy said.

Firstpost did not succeed in contacting the state agriculture department to know the reason behind keeping the ban limited to just two months.

Yavatmal farmer deaths: Maharashtra govts move to ban five pesticides for 60 days not enough, say experts

Representational image. Reuters

Government apathy

Goswami claimed that the authorities at the state as well as the district level were not helping distressed farmers over the issue.

"It has generally been case-by-case fire-fighting. The local patwari does the panchnama. Police registered a case of accidental death. But this won’t help the farmers. What is the SIT doing? There is an absolute dereliction of duty by the state government and a criminal negligence on the part of district administration," Goswami, the founder of Shramik Elgar Prathisthan, a union of rural workers, said.

She said that one of the members of her union, Sainath Madavik, died on 16 October due to pesticide poisoning. The pesticide that led to Madavik’s death was Hamla 550, a brand produced by Gharda Industries. On 11 October, the state government booked the company for culpable homicide.

Notably, Hamla 550 contained Fipronil 40% + Imidacloprid 40% EC, one of the five pesticides that the Maharashtra government may soon ban.

Illiteracy among the tribal community and poor farmers was a major reason for the deaths, believed the tribal activist.

"As all product labels are in the English language. So it is the responsibility of the extension officers to teach them about the dos and don'ts regarding the chemicals. But I never saw the farmers being guided by these officers," she said.

Hazardous chemicals

While all five pesticides are quite dangerous when not used judiciously by farmers, Monochrotophos has been considered to be the most lethal of them.

"Monochrotophos has high toxicity and leaves residues, which badly affects the eggs of birds. These are birds, which generally help farmers in agriculture and horticulture. This chemical affects the natural environment as its residues remain in soil and soil water. It has been banned across the world," Chakravarthy said.

According to the IIHR scientist, arbitrary use of pesticides coupled with a long period of exposure to them will be harmful in the long-run for farmers. "It is a gradual process. When farmers use contaminated containers for drinking water or farming processes, there is a high chance for poisoning. However, till a man directly consumes the pesticide, it won’t be an instant death," he said.

Chakravarthy believed that the ignorance of farmers was also to be blamed for the latest tragedy in Yavatmal, adding that they need to take precautions to stay safe. "Farmers need to wear protective gloves and masks while spraying these pesticides. They need to follow specific guidelines on the exact amount of chemical and water that is required for crops," he said.

If the guidelines are not followed, then it will not only affect farmers but also those consuming food in faraway places like Mumbai, the horticulture scientist said. "If the residue of these pesticides remain in the food that we eat, then people may suffer from cancer, liver problem, skin diseases and eyesight problems," said Chakravarthy.

Are there alternatives to these pesticides? Chakravarthy answered in the affirmative.

Bio-pesticides, which emerge from micro-organisms, and botanical insecticides like neem extract are some of the alternative chemicals that can be used, the entomologist said. Adding that there are various control mechanisms to keep a check on pests, Chakravarthy said, "If we nip these pests and insects from the plants in the initial stage itself, then there won’t be a need for such harmful pesticides."

Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.

Updated Date: Oct 21, 2017 13:08:17 IST

Also See