Farmers responses over pesticide-use effects cannot be considered scientific, petitioners tell SC

Petitioners request Supreme Court to review and consider banning of 135 more pesticides banned outside India

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Wednesday 26 July 2023
The central government in May 2020 had proposed banning 27 harmful pesticides identified as health hazards by an expert committee. Photo: iStock__

Petitioners seeking a ban on toxic pesticides in agriculture have told the Supreme Court of India that farmers’ responses to banning harmful chemicals cannot be considered scientific, even though they are its end users. 

The court was hearing the matter of Vanashakti & Other vs Union of India & Others regarding the banning of harmful pesticides in India. Activist KV Biju, all India organising secretary, nonprofit Swadeshi Andolan is a petitioner in the matter. 

The central government in May 2020 had proposed banning 27 harmful pesticides identified as health hazards by an expert committee. In its draft notification on February 16, 2023, it took a step back on its proposal by banning just three out of a list of 27 pesticides to be banned.

Read more: Killed in cold blood: Amphibians and reptiles are bearing the brunt of crop intensification

The expert group knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court, claiming the short list was carved out of the long list of 66 potential pesticides that need to be banned for consumer and farmers’ welfare. A proposal for the same was made in 2013. 

However, lawyers representing the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare on April 28, 2023 told the apex court that the expert committee (EC) had concluded on not banning the 24 other pesticides as it had considered the views of farmers who feared possible crop loss.

“Farmers comprise about 55 per cent of the total responses received by the centre in its Draft Gazette Notification (DGN). Farmers are end users of the products but do not possess technical expertise in terms of pesticide toxicity and toxicology,” Biju told Down To Earth (DTE)

Farmers do not have access to the means or resources to assess the risks on adverse effects, he added. “We have notified in our reply on July 22 that it cannot be taken as a scientific base against the review conducted by the government-appointed Anupam Varma and Khurana Sub Committee,” he said.

In its affidavit, a copy of which is in the possession of DTE, the petitioner stated the Committee had also identified alternate pesticides as a solution. 

“Some farmers’ organisations expressed views that no adverse health problems to farmers, farm families and farm labourers are reported in the country due to the use of these 27 pesticides,” the EC had said. 

But many government and academia reports suggest otherwise, argued Biju. “These pesticides have caused deaths due to poisoning. Mass poisoning has been reported in Vidarbha, Maharashtra in 2017. The state government including Civil Society organisations, also demanded a ban on pesticides,” he said.

The petitioner has mentioned that the Maharashtra government also made a written requisition with the central government to ban those pesticides. Other instances such as mid-day meal deaths in Bihar due to inhalation of poison, Tamil Nadu in 2017 and poisoning of devotees in Karnataka in 2018, were also highlighted.

In its reply, the petitioner also pointed out that many pesticide companies failed to comply with the regulatory directions of the Anupam Varma Committee.  

Read more: Maharashtra consumed the most chemical pesticides in 5 years: Report

Citing the EC report, the petitioners argued that many studies point out that several pesticides used in India do not comply with recommended or approved use.

“It had been found that even the deletion label claim for some crops regarding the use of eight insecticides was conducted as per the proposal of pesticide registrants, ignoring the risk assessment process implemented by the EC,” he said.

The warning statements on the labels and bottles would not prevent the risk to the farmers from exposure, as suggested by the Centre, as many farmers are uneducated or poorly literate to be able to grasp the extent of risks or health hazards.

The use of 318 pesticides is permitted in India as of October 1, 2022, Biju contested. 

“The list of 27 pesticides that are demanded to be banned comprises 8.5 per cent of the total registered pesticides in the country. Banning them will not threaten food security or adversely affect food production in India,” he said. 

It has been argued that with alternate pesticides for the existing combination, the ban will not affect crop health management but, on the contrary, help reduce the toxic burden for farmers and agriculture trade communities. 

Citing the Anupam Varma Committee, which suggested a review of all registered pesticides every decade, the petitioners have requested the court direct the central government to review all remaining pesticides. 

“It was pointed out that in India, no mechanism exists to study the toxicity effect caused by lower doses of pesticides for a longer duration,” he said. 

In lieu of the issue, the number of pesticides banned out of India in 2013, which stood to 66 have now increased to 135. “It has been prayed to the court to review 135 pesticides and eventually ban them for agriculture purpose,” he said.

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