Going overboard

Pesticide industry targets activist

Published: Monday 15 December 2003

Kumar: at the receiving end<sc (Credit: Sopan Joshi / CSE)The nexus between the Rs 4100-crore pesticide industry and the government was in evidence again recently as the Pesticides Association of India (PAI) took up the cudgels for O P Dubey, the head of an eight-member expert committee that gave a clean chit to organochlorine pesticide endosulfan.

Towards the end of October, PAI sent a legal notice to Y S Mohana Kumar, a medical practitioner of Kerala's Kasaragod district where people suffered several health problems due to endosulfan. Kumar incurred the wrath of the industry for penning a letter published in Down To Earth's July 31, 2003, issue.

Commenting on an article that had appeared in the magazine earlier (see Down To Earth, 'Dubiously acquitted', April 30, 2003), he wrote: "The composition of (an) expert committee comprising...pesticide manufacturers is a joke on the suffering people. From the very beginning, people have doubted O P Dubey's intentions. Five members of the... committee were known as pro-industry people." It may be noted that Kumar has for long been crusading for the endosulfan victims.

Intolerant as the industry is of criticism, it has threatened him with defamation and described the letter as "motivated and scandalous". PAI further claims in its notice that he is "undermining the dignity of (the) Dubey committee". Kumar, according to the industry body, has committed a "civil as well as criminal wrong" that is "punishable with two years simple imprisonment or with fine or both".

PAI chairperson Rajju Shroff justifies the drastic step. "People are getting bolder, thinking they can say anything against the industry. He (Kumar) has called a respectable person like Dubey a liar. So we sent him the notice," he says. On being asked why Kumar was singled out , Shroff snaps: "It was he who had levelled the allegations. If necessary, we will sue Down To Earth too."

The industry, it transpires, is used to adopting such bullying tactics: "We have sued the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Toxics Link, and are initiating legal proceedings against The Times of India," discloses Shroff, adding: "PAI has also collected Rs 25 lakh from another newspaper." Significantly, in Toxics Link's case, too, notices were issued to the writers of the report, not to the NGO.

But in the present instance, why did the industry take up Dubey's cause? "His image was being tarnished by making baseless charges to the effect that he can be bought by the industry," says Shroff. Somehow the explanation seems hard to buy.

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