Official letter reveals how Kerala is succumbing to the pressure of pesticide lobby
ON MAY 13, the nationwide ban on endosulfan completed a year even as manufacturers of the pesticide are trying all means to get the ban vacated and discredit research showing its harmful effects. The past year witnessed a constant tug of war between pesticides manufacturers and the petitioners, Democratic Youth Federation of India (Kerala wing), with the manufacturers resorting to threats and coercion to revoke the ban.
The endosulfan controversy started in Kerala and still continues in the state. An official letter has revealed that the United Democratic Front-led government in the state is succumbing to the pressure of the pesticide lobby. The letter, kept under wraps fearing public outrage, has been exposed by the Malayalam news channel, Indiavision.
On March 12, state health secretary Rajeev Sadanandan wrote to Government Medical College, Calicut, to make changes in the findings of its 2010 study on the health of the people in endosulfan-affected areas in Kerala’s Kasaragod district. The letter was sent in reaction to a legal notice sent to the college by S Ganesan of pesticide company Excel Crop Care, which alleged the findings of the study were “scientifically erroneous” and “fundamentally flawed’’. The study, which was a part of the periodic monitoring of endosulfan-affected areas, had found that all tested blood samples contained alpha endosulfan, an isomer of endosulfan, while 59 per cent of the samples contained endosulfan sulphate. Ganesan wanted the study withdrawn by July 28, 2011.
In his letter, Sadanandan sought the college’s opinion on meeting with Ganesan and accepting suggestions from him and including them in the report. The college did not respond to the legal notice and rejected the government’s proposal of making any changes in the study. On March 21, the college wrote back to the health secretary, saying the department of community medicine that had conducted the study was not keen on meeting Ganesan nor on accepting any suggestions. It added that the study was reviewed by apex scientific bodies like the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), National Institute of Medical Statistics and the Supreme Court-appointed joint committee on endosulfan, comprising the director general of ICMR and the agriculture commissioner.
But the chief minister Oomen Chandy seems to be persistent. In a media briefing on May 2, he said he was in discussion with the college to make the study “fool proof”. He, however, did not mention what was wrong with the study. Chandy’s statement is confusing as well. Amid the “letter” controversy he maintains his support to the ban on endosulfan and talks of discussion within the government to sue pesticide manufacturers to compensate those affected by endosulfan. The compensation issue is, perhaps, the outcome of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) rap to Kerala for not compensating victims as decided by the commission in 2010. NHRC has directed the state to submit a report on the action taken by June 4 or appear before it on June 16.
The manufacturers are, meanwhile, asking for Supreme Court’s permission to produce endosulfan from the leftover raw material, Hexachlorocyclopentadiene (HCCP). The producers have already been granted the permission to export existing stocks of endosulfan but there is a ban on its manufacture. The producers reason that India is a signatory to the Stockholm Convention and has to phase out endosulfan, and so until then they should be allowed to produce it. The court has asked the Centre to furnish a disposal plan of HCCP by July 23.
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