Pawar on a sticky wicket
after batting for toxic pesticide
By A. M. Jigeesh in New Delhi
AGRICULTURE minister Sharad Pawar has been caught on the wrong foot and may have to face a privilege motion in Parliament for misleading the House on the issue of banning endosulfan, a pesticide with multiple health hazards.
The minister had informed the Lok Sabha on February 22 that a number of states were against imposing a ban on the pesticide and wanted to continue using it. " There are a number of states and farmers' organisations which want to continue the use of endosulfan," he had said.
However, information obtained under the RTI Act from the Union ministry of agriculture reveals an entirely different story. The RTI response, contrary to what Pawar said in Lok Sabha, mentions that not a single state has so far requested the Centre not to ban the pesticide.
The ministry has so far received just six letters — none from the states — with the plea that endosulfan should not be banned.
Besides, three endosulfan producers have also requested the government to desist from banning the pesticide. A letter provided by the ministry from the Consortium of Indian Farmers Association ( CIFA) also urges the government not to ban the pesticide.
The CIFA questions the findings of the National Institute of Occupational Health and Centre for Science and Environment, which state that the use of endosulfan can create serious health issues such as cancer, autism and neurological ailments. The ministry handed over these details in response to the RTI application filed by Kerala- based journalist D. Dhanasumod.
The RTI letter, dated March 8, also reveals that the Centre has not reacted to the demands by Kerala and Karnataka governments to ban endosulfan. " No letter was sent by the ministry of agriculture to various states regarding the ban on endosulfan during the period January 1, 2010, to December 22, 2010," Vandana Jain, deputy secretary in the ministry, said in the RTI reply. Both the state governments have already banned the use of the pesticide.
When MPs from Kerala and Karnataka, during the recently concluded Budget session, asked Pawar whether the Centre had any plan to ban the pesticide, he said: " There are a number of states, there are a number of farmers' organisations and there are a number of farmers' leaders who have taken a different stand. They want to use this particular pesticide.
They have said their experience is extremely good and there is no case like Kerala elsewhere in the country." Justifying the application of the pesticide by a number of countries where it is being used, Pawar said: " It is true that endosulfan is banned in about 60 countries, but there are 40 countries where endosulfan has been allowed. Countries like Brazil, Australia and China do allow endosulfan even today." Pawar also told the House that the government had appointed four committees of scientists since 1992 and all of them favoured the use of endosulfan.
The CPM, though, is not convinced.
The party has said it will move a privilege motion against the agriculture minister. " Pawar is depending on just six letters for not banning endosulfan. Already, 73 countries have banned the pesticide.
There at least 20 studies to prove that it is dangerous. He is playing into the hands of endosulfan producers and dealers," CPM deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, P. Karunakaran, said.
The political implications of Pawar's defence of the pesticide notwithstanding, several organisations and groups have pointed out the harmful effects of its prolonged use.
" Children were found to be the worst affected with congenital anomalies, mental retardation, physical deformities, cerebral palsy, etc. Men and women were also affected with various chronic ailments," says an association working for those afflicted by the use of endosulfan in Kerala and Karnataka.
The government has received 3,000 letters from organisations as well as individuals demanding a ban on the product. The National Human Rights Commission, too, has demanded a ban on the pesticide.
Regarding the future course of action, Pawar had remarked: " They ( the committees) also said that if the spraying is harmful, it should be stopped. But knowing well the reactions from the media, environment groups and particularly a large section of population from Kerala, the government has decided to appoint a committee under the Indian Council of Medical Research.
The panel will go into the details and we will accept their recommendations."
Pawar informed Parliament that a number of states were against banning the pesticide endosulfan
He also claimed that the experience of many farmers' organisations with the pesticide was " extremely good"
An RTI reply, however, revealed that not a single state opposed the ban
The letter, in fact, revealed that Kerala and Karnataka had called for a blanket ban on the pesticide
The CPM lambasted the minister for his defence of the pesticide and accused him of concealing facts
The party said it will move a privilege motion against Pawar
According to Pawar, the government will appoint a committee under ICMR to look into the matter
LOWDOWN ON ENDOSULFAN
Endosulfan is an off- patent organochlorine insecticide.
It has emerged as a highly controversial agrichemical owing to its acute toxicity and potential for bioaccumulation. A global ban on its use and manufacture is being considered under the Stockholm Convention.
It can act as an endocrine disruptor, causing reproductive and developmental damage
Symptoms of acute poisoning include hyperactivity, tremors, convulsions, lack of coordination, staggering, breathing problems, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea and unconsciousness
Many cases of sub- lethal poisoning have caused permanent brain damage
Endosulfan can promote proliferation of breast cancer cells
Doses as low as 35 mg/ kg are known to have caused death