India's corrupt pesticide registration system

Published: Thursday 15 March 2007

for years corruption and irregularities in the pesticide registration system in India has been a well-documented norm. Unfortunately, it has taken action from us authorities, which has, for the first time, indicted a pesticide manufacturer for paying bribes in India, opening a particularly noisome can of worms. Dow Chemical Company has been fined us $325,000 for bribery charges against its Indian subsidiary, De-Nocil.

Documents show in explicit detail exactly how manipulation took place. An officer of the registration committee of the Central Insecticides Board (cib), the apex body for registering pesticides, was paid at least Rs 14 lakh, on several occasions, for expediting the registration of Dow products. We are used to this kind of sleaze, to decision-makers being bought off to serve private interest at the cost of the public good. But the official, and others up and down the system, supposedly the guardians of public health and their fraud has the most serious of implications.

Pesticide registration procedures have been put in place to assess whether they are deadly toxins, ensuring that public health is not compromised. The system is meant to ensure rigorous study and analysis of the harm these toxins are capable of causing. There are several parameters. Whether the chemical sought to be registered is safe to farmers who will apply it? Whether it is toxic to birds, animals or fishes? Does it leave excessive residues in land, water or agricultural products? Does it have a high cancer-causing or gene-damaging potential? Can it cause malformation of embryos or foetuses? Is it specifically toxic for vulnerable groups like children and the aged? Only after verifying all these can a product be registered for use in India. If these issues are not addressed, the integrity of the process is irretrievably compromised and with it the health of the nation.

Unfortunately, the entire exercise lacks transparency. The Faridabad office of cib and the registration committee is notorious for corrupt practices, it is not a question of just one official taking bribes. There are documented complaints of payments being made 'under the table' just to get minutes of committee meetings. We have often said that the pesticide registration and regulation system needs an urgent revamp. This case should serve as a wake-up call. Down To Earth had reported in 2002 that the pesticide industry had developed bribery into an art form. "Corruption in cib is rampant," we had said. We stand vindicated.

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