The government bans the use of BHC. The industry files a petition and the issue hangs fire
WITH the government ban on the manufacture and use of benzene hexachloride
(BHC) coming into effect in India from
April 1, vector control and pest control
operations in agriculture have been
forced to look for safer alternatives.
BHC is a highly toxic, non-specific
organochlorine insecticide used mostly
for a wide variety of agricultural applications. It was introduced into the
national malaria eradication programme (NMFP) in 1959. One of the
alternatives to BHC, synthetic pyrethroids, are being used in limited quantities since 1995-96. NMEP officials say
that the ban is prompting them to test
newer pesticides like synthetic pyrethroids and tryout alternative combinations of existing pesticides on field.
Much now rests on a case scheduled to
come up in the Supreme Court (SC) in
the last week of April (at the time of
going to press), to decide whether the
ban is to be upheld or not.
According to Pesticides Association
of India (PAI) estimates, BHC accounts
for about 40 per cent of the total pesticide used in the country. PAI officials
add that a complete ban on the manufacture and use of BHC, could lead to a
substantial increase in costs, as its alternatives are more expensive than BHC.
Environmentalists and health activists
have welcomed the government ban.
According to Sanjay Sengupta of
Voluntary Health Association of India,
"Though the decision of banning BHC's
manufacture and use may not make
much economic sense, but it is an
environmentally sound decision."
BHC is an organochlorine which can
remain in water or soil for years and
get into the ecosystem (Down To Earth,
Vol 5, No 13).
However, PAI still hopes to continue
with BHC in some parts of India. "Its use
in vector control will, however, be permitted in the north-eastern states and in
those pockets of the country where
'kala-azar' (leishmaniasis) is prevalent"
says S C Mathur, executive director of
the PAI. It is still not clear whether the
BHC used in these pockets is to be
imported or manufactured by any specific Indian pesticide manufacturer.
The ministry of agriculture had
issued a notification in the 'Gazette of
India: Extraordinary', on January 1,
1996, declaring the intended ban on
BHC. They had taken this decision
exercising powers under the relevant
section of the Insecticides Act, 1968.
They had invited objections or suggestions therein. In the ensuing period,
Kanoria Chemicals Ltd, New Delhi, had
filed a case in the SC, seeking review of
"This is an arbitrary decision, taken
without following set procedures. A registration committee, comprising of
experts from the health ministry, agriculture ministry and the environment
ministry reviews such plans. In this
decision, the committee was by-passed
in violation of the Insecticides Act," says
C S Moondra of Kanoria Chemicals.
While malaria control experts state
that the ban over BHC may riot have a
large impact on mosquito eradication
programmes, they fail to explain how, as
they do not have readily or cheaply
available alternatives. BHC has been the
second-most important ingredient in
the NMEP over the past decade.
Says V P Sharma, director of the
Malaria Research Centre, Delhi: "BHC, a
residual pesticide, is not very safe. Its
termination should not pose a problem
if there is enough money for alternatives-" NMEP Officials say that states had
already been informed about the ban
that was to come. As for an alternative,
"it is not a simple matter," says NMEP
deputy director R L Yadav. "Technical,
financial and departmental matters are
involved" he says. However, he is
optimistic that there are enough
alternatives in the anvil for NMEP, referring to synthetic pyrethorids and
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