Pawar, India’s powerful agricultural minister, recently spoke in defence of
endosulfan in Parliament, it was a first of sorts. Probably, never before had a
mere chemical attracted the interest of such a high profile minister.
is no mere chemical.
It is one whose
recent history has been written in guile, intrigue and politics.
arguably one of the most toxic pesticides being used on the planet today. The
international scientific community has formally recommended it for a global ban
in the upcoming 172- nation meeting of the Stockholm Convention, an
international legally binding UN treaty dealing with the most toxic chemicals
currently tops this notorious list, with 21 already having been acted upon
previously. The pesticide can cause severe health impacts including deformities
in limbs, loss of motor control, brain damage, delayed puberty and cancer. It
persists in the environment for a long time, circulates globally and passes on
from the mother to the child, causing intergenerational health effects. On all
these counts, banning it should be an open and shut case, as has already been
done by over 60 countries in order to prevent harm to their citizens and the
In India, there
is a twist to the tale. We produce about ` 4500 crore worth of the pesticide
annually, which is over 70 per cent of the world’s supply, and consume almost
half of it for our horticulture, pulses, cashew, cotton and other plantations.
companies are the largest global manufacturers, one of them being a public
sector company, Hindustan Insecticides Ltd.
It is no wonder
then that with such huge economic stakes, the Union government has blatantly
resisted any attempt to talk science regarding endosulfan’s toxicity ever since
the debate became international four years ago. It has not only cocked a snook
at global research, stating it inapplicable to the tropics ( are Indian bodies
so different?), but has made valiant ( though seemingly futile) efforts to disrupt
the process without presenting any research to back its claims.
delegates to the International Science Review Committee have, invariably
accompanied by representatives of the companies, attempted to block any
discussion. Often company representatives have made official statements on
behalf of the government.
It has been
international diplomacy at its worst and the Indian behaviour has been
whispered about in the UN corridors.
even academics from reputed institutions such as IIT Kanpur or the National
Institute of Occupational Health, who dared to speak on the issue, have been
publicly maligned, served legal notices or had criminal cases filed against
them by the industry. Despite this, Kerala banned the use of endosulfan in 2002.
The pesticide was widely used for aerial spraying on cashew crops in the state.
The Karnataka government followed suit in 2010. A recent ban in Australia cited
the health impacts in Kerala’s Kasaragod as one of the reasons for the ban.
very vociferous environment minister Jairam Ramesh chided the Kerala government
for “ politicising the issue” and stated that a ban would have “ national
implications”. Farmer leader Sharad Joshi has spoken against the proposed ban,
fearing its impact on farmers and imputing motives on the EU to capture the
market with new chemicals instead.
In fact, many
alternative non- chemical approaches exist and have been documented.
Simultaneously, the industry lobbying machinery is in full swing as the
convention meeting draws closer.
representatives can be seen stalking the corridors of the environment and
agriculture ministries. They should be less cocky, since India can be isolated
in a global meeting.