State appeals to the Centre for a nationwide ban
THE Karnataka government has banned use of pesticide endosulfan with immediate effect for a period of 60 days. The state Cabinet, chaired by chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, announced the decision on February 17. It took note of reports of severe health problems, like physical deformities, caused by aerial spraying of endosulfan in cashew plantations in the state’s Dakshin Kannada district.
“The state has also appealed to the Centre for a nationwide endosulfan ban,” said V S Acharya, state minister for higher education. The pesticide, a known neurotoxin and genotoxin, was banned under section 27(1) of the Insecticide Act, 1968. Under the section, the state can ban endosulfan for 60 days pending an investigation into the matter. The period can be extended if the investigation is not complete.
Pesticide manufacturers have called the ban “unscientific”, citing lack of scientific proof linking endosulfan to adverse health impacts on villagers in Karnataka. On February 18, the Endosulfan Manufacturers and Formulators Welfare Association challenged the ban in Karnataka High Court. In their petition they said the linking of health problems in Dakshin Kannada to the pesticide is “arbitrary” and “unconstitutional”. But Acharya is optimistic. “We stand by the ban. They have a weak case,” he said. “Seventythree countries have banned endosulfan.
Scientific studies worldwide and in Kerala prove that it has severe health impacts on people and the ecology,” he added. Kerala banned endosulfan in 2005, citing health problems.
How Karnataka became cautious
According to a right to information (RTI) reply received by consumer activist Sanjeev Arora from the Karnataka Cashew Development Corporation, 32,604 litres of endosulfan was aerially sprayed between 1980 and 2000 on 850 hectares in Belthangady and Puttur taluks in Dakshin Kannada. In addition, 11,225 litres were sprayed manually. The spraying affected nearly 20 villages. “Health conditions in these villages are scary.
People are suffering from problems like congenital deformities, mental retardation and physical deformities,” said Acharya. “The impact is similar to those affected in Kerala’s Kasaragod village.”
The spraying in Dakshin Kanada was stopped in 2000 but contract labourers working in cashew plantations continued using the pesticide manually, claimed villagers in the two taluks (see ‘Another Kasaragod’, Down To Earth, January 31, 2011). “Farmers are also using it in large quantities on different crops and vegetables across Karnataka since it costs less. The ban will ensure the use is stopped,” said Sridhar Gowda, an activist working in villages of Belthangady taluk with endosulfan victims. Endosulfan is used on crops like paddy and sorghum; vegetables like brinjal and cabbage; and plantation crops like coffee, cashew nut and tea.
Though the ban has been imposed, the question remains whether the state will be able to check illegal entry of endosulfan, a problem Kerala has been facing even after banning it (see ‘State of endosulfan, Down To Earth, December 31, 2010). A confident Acharya said, “The Karnataka government will crack down on any illegal use of endosulfan in the state.”