The line was blurred between the official and industry stands
|"With a small half life, endosulfan does not pose any serious health risk in tropical countries like ours" --Indian delegation at Rotterdam Convention
|There were unusually high cancer cases and deformities in Kasargod (Kerala),
where for 25 years endosulfan was sprayed on cashew plantations
"If people do not use endosulfan properly, why blame endosulfan, blame the users." This was an all-too-familiar spiel the industry dished out
when confronted with evidence indicting the pesticide's deadly effect on people.
But this was no industry-speak. It was the official line of the Indian government to block the inclusion of endosulfan in a list of chemicals slated for
global information sharing on its health hazards. As ngo
observers, we watched with disdain as the Indian
government towed the chemical industry line.
At the 4th Conference of Parties of the Rotterdam Convention in Rome, India obstructed putting endosulfan and chrysotile asbestos in the prior
informed consent (pic
) list, exploiting the consensus process of the convention.The consensus process ensured
that voices of developing countries were heard. But now it had become more of a bane. In its 10th year, the Convention was in imminent danger
of being rendered ineffective and meaningless.
It used every possible trick--pettifogging, filibuster, even downright lies--to subvert the inclusion of the two substances. India became the butt of
many a gibe at the conference corridors for its official delegation's barely disguised intimacy with the unofficial industry delegation. At times the
distinction became so blurred that statements of the Indian industry were mistaken for the official position.
While the expert from the Indian delegation touted for discredited science ("with a small half life, endosulfan does not pose any serious health risk
in tropical countries like ours") and stated facts contrary to the findings of a 2002 study done by the National Institute of Occupational Health (nioh
), the Indian chemical industry was busy circulating the conference room paper from c
3, which outlined India's official objection to the listing. A case in point was a meeting on
October 29. In an effort to break the deadlock over India's objections, a side meeting was convened, attended by an official delegate from the
Union environment ministry accompanied by representatives from the Indian Chemical Council (icc)
Insecticides Limited. The opening intervention for India was made by S Ganeshan of icc
, stating that "our objection
is purely procedural in nature". But what was this procedural nature about?
India had objected to Thailand's notification on endosulfan, which cited reasons of "intentional misuse" for bringing about regulatory action on
endosulfan in Thailand. As per annex ii
(d) of the convention, regulatory action brought about by "intentional
misuse" could not in itself be an adequate reason to include a chemical in the pic
list. India had raised this issue at
3, where it circulated the conference room paper. Since then the convention
secretariat had clarified the legal ambiguity surrounding "intentional misuse" with the United Nations Environment Programme (unep)
legal cell, but this was not acceptable to India, and I dare say, to the chemical industry. The icc
representative, and not the official delegate, argued against unep
's legal interpretation.
India did not even have an answer when asked if it would accept endosulfan listing if the "technical legal" objections were sorted out.
On chrysotile asbestos India took refuge in the discredited study of nioh
. India argued that "till the time the nioh
study is completed, which will be in next two years (2010), we will not be in position to take a decision on listing of
chrysotile." Information sought under the Right to Information Act, 2005 revealed the hypocrisy and vested interests behind the study. This
supposedly scientific study was being part-sponsored, reviewed and vetted by those who stood to gain or lose from it. Nine independent
scientists, who reviewed the interim reports and draft of the study, termed it fundamentally flawed in its design, methodology and execution.
So what did this entire shenanigan signify? It obviously helped India kill the consensus of a majority of parties, mostly from developing nations, to
include these chemicals in the pic
list. But more importantly, it clearly showed that science was a mere fig leaf to
cover the nexus between a colluding government and an avaricious industry.
The writer is with The Other Media, a Chennai-based advocacy organization
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