The expert committee appointed by the Supreme Court to examine the issue of disposing of the remaining stock of banned pesticide endosulfan has suggested that its use may be permitted for another two years. The committee submitted its report to the Supreme Court on November 20.
The apex court had banned the use, manufacture and export of endosulfan on May 13 last year, citing its toxic effects on humans and the environment. The bench had delivered this order while hearing the petition filed by Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI). However, the apex court had allowed the export of endosulfan in December, 2011.
The persistent problem now is how to dispose of the remaining stock of endosulfan and its raw material, hexa chloro cyclo pentadine (HCCP). The court had appointed a joint expert committee of the agriculture ministry and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) to examine the methods of disposal of the balance stock of endosulfan. The committee reviewed the reports of National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) and Calicut Medical College; these reports document the disastrous impact of endosulfan in Kerala and Karnataka.
According to the committee, all countries that have banned endosulfan have a phase-out plan that allows its use in agriculture for a period of two to six years. By allowing the use of endosulfan for two years, India would be doing the same. The committee also considered the option of destroying the remaining stocks of endosulfan by incineration but then rejected it as the costs of such a procedure would be prohibitive. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, the cost of destroying the existing stock of endosulfan and HCCP would be Rs 1,189 crore and would require several years.
The report has many loopholes. “On one hand it (the committee) accepts that endosulfan is harmful to human health, on the other hand it recommends lifting ban for two years. The report contradicts itself,” says C Jayakumar, director of Kerala-based NGO Thanal. The committee agreed with the fact that endosulfan has important health hazards related to endocrine disruption, carcinogenicity, congenital anomalies, and reproductive and congenital abnormalities. The committee further noted that most of the other registered pesticides in the country had as much of a negative impact on human health and environment as endosulfan, and that the pesticide could not be singled out as a rogue pesticide.
The next hearing of the case is on December 12. Activists are apprehensive about it. Mohan Kumar, medical practitioner, who has been working with the endosulfan-affected areas in Kasaragod of Kerala, feels that the decision may go in favour of lifting the ban temporarily. “At least they have accepted that endosulfan has harmful effects. But recommending lifting the ban for whatsoever time is unjustified,” he says.
—with inputs from Arshiya Sharda