Centre seeks view on endosulfan

States say all is well with the hazardous pesticide

By Savvy Soumya Misra
Published: Thursday 30 June 2011

AS MANY as 20 states have opposed a ban on endosulfan. At a meeting convened by the agriculture commissioner’s office on June 3, the states, except Kerala, said they were not aware of health problems caused by the pesticide. These include Karnataka, which has banned the pesticide, and Madhya Pradesh, agriculture minister of which recently wrote to the Centre supporting Kerala’s call for a nationwide ban.

imageThe agriculture commissioner’s office had invited 21 states to receive feedback on endosulfan, its use and impact. The meeting was also to discuss how to implement the Supreme Court ban on the hazardous pesticide and find sustainable alternatives to it.

The meeting was a follow-up to the letter the Union Ministry of Agriculture had sent to all states on April 27 seeking their views on endosulfan. It comes close on the heels of the Supreme Court ban on the pesticide on May 13, until a scientific study on its impact on the environment and animal and human health is submitted (see ‘Supreme Court bans endosulfan’, Down To Earth, May 1-15, 2011).

The states were represented by researchers from the agriculture departments or junior officers from the agriculture ministries. The meeting was also attended by “stakeholders” like Endosulfan Manufacturers and Formulators Welfare Association. But others like environmental organisations, civil society groups and organic farmers’ organisations were conveniently forgotten.

An official present at the meeting said pesticide manufacturers claimed the opposition to endosulfan was politically motivated. Officials representing states said they were not aware of health problems caused by the pesticide. The stand taken by the states, barring Kerala, was that endosulfan was the cheapest broad-spectrum pesticide and was friendly to pollinators.

Prolonged use of the pesticide on cashew plantations in Kerala’s Kasaragod district had wiped out honeybee colonies in the region. They started coming back after the state banned endosulfan in 2001. A study in 2010 shows even though bees are least sensitive to endosulfan, when compared to other organochlorine pesticides like chlordane and DDT, the neurotoxic pesticide has a sub-lethal effect on their behaviour (see ‘Hard time for honeybees’, Down To Earth, May 16-31, 2011).

The outcome of the meeting is important, especially because agriculture commissioner Gurbachan Singh, who chaired the meeting, heads the joint committee appointed by the Supreme Court to conduct the scientific study on endosulfan. Director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research is the other head of the joint committee. But it seems the joint committee is not worried about the eight-week deadline given by the Supreme Court to submit the scientific study on endosulfan. In the three weeks since the court order, they met for the first time on June 2. The members and terms of reference of the joint committee are yet to be decided. The report seems a long shot at the moment.

The Supreme Court ban should not be lifted till the joint committee completes its report, even if it takes three years, says C Jayakumar of Thanal, a non-profit working with endosulfan victims in Kerala.

Deepak Prakash, Supreme Court advocate for the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), Kerala wing, assures that in case the joint committee misses the deadline it will have to ask for an extension and submit the report on a later date. The ban order will continue till the time a final decision is taken on its findings. “In case the report is not satisfactory, we would fight it out in the court,” Prakash explains. The court’s order was in response to a petition filed by DYFI.

Following the court’s ban, Kerala and Gujarat have seized the permits of endosulfan-manufacturing units. Kerala has cancelled the licence of the Hindustan Insecticides Limited, a government of India enterprise, to produce the pesticide. Its endosulfan unit has been permanently shut down.

But the ban is yet to be implemented in several states. In Odisha, for instance, endosulfan is sold openly in the capital city of Bhubaneswar. In Madhya Pradesh, stocks are sold at an inflated price of Rs 500 per litre. When Down To Earth contacted Punjab agriculture minister Sucha Singh Langah, he said he had no information about the ban. The Centre, however, maintains that all states have been informed about the ban and appropriate action is being taken.

World leaders have voted to ban this endocrine disruptor and neurotoxic pesticide globally, at the Stockholm Convention in April.

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