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Acting on advice of an expert committee, the Centre has banned use of 12 pesticides with immediate effect and issued orders for banning six others from December 31, 2020 as their use is hazardous for both human beings and animals.
The expert committee, constituted in July 2013, had reviewed the use of a total of 66 pesticides and submitted its report to the agriculture ministry two years later, recommending banning 18 of them. Incidentally, all the 66 pesticides are banned, restricted or withdrawn in one or more countries across the globe but continued to be used in India.
The government then took more than two-and-a-half years to act on the committee’s recommendation and notified the ban on those 18 pesticides on August 8. The notification says that no person shall manufacture, import, formulate, transport, sell and use any of those 12 pesticides from the date of publication of the order. It also specified that action would be taken under the Insecticides Act, 1968 against any person who fails to return “certificate of registration” for manufacture transport and sell these pesticides within three months.
Dangerous pesticides used in India
As in 2017
Seeks Opinion From Experts, Stakeholders
Deaths of farmers due to pesticide poisoning in Yavatmal and other districts of Maharashtra have opened up a debate over the rationale of using all such pesticides in India which are either banned or restricted elsewhere in the world due to their high toxicity.
Against the backdrop of the Maharashtra incidents, the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment on Wednesday came out with a list of seven extremely or highly hazardous pesticides which continue to be used in India despite these being banned in many countries. The thinktank questioned the central committee, headed by IARI scientist Anupam Verma, which had in 2015 reviewed the use of these pesticides but preferred not to ban them immediately . Seven hazardous pesticides are on the list of 18 Class-I (classified as extremelyhighly hazardous), which accounted for nearly 30% of the total pesticide use in India in 2015-16. Though the central committee had reviewed use of 66 pesticides and recommended ban on 13 of them from 2018 and phasing out of six others by 2020, allowing the use of others in the list till the next review is something which bothers researchers and farm experts.
“Deaths and illnesses due to pesticides can be avoided if we urgently fix some of the crucial gaps in our regulations and improve its enforcement,“ said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of the CSE, while referring to the Maharashtra incidents and similar deaths elsewhere in the country . He told TOI, “We need an exclusive legislation on pesticide management to address the issues related to unsafe use of pesticides“.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra government on Wednesday named Monochrotophos as one of the five chemical solutions which could be banned from being sold. The agriculture department, which is considering a 60-day ban, has sought views from experts and various stakeholders.
Referring to international code of conduct on pesticide management, the CSE flagged a provision which says all pesticides whose handling and application require the use of personal protective equipment that is uncomfortable, expensive or not readily available should be avoided, especially in the case of small-scale users and farm workers in hot climates.
The think-tank said that the pesticides such as Monocrotophos, Oxydemetonmethyl, Acephate and Profenophos were believed to be responsible for the deaths and illness in Maharashtra.Pesticides like Monocrotophos and Oxydemeton-methyl are considered Class-I pesticides by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“Since Class-I pesticides can be fatal at a very low dose, many of these are banned in several countries“, said the CSE, seeking a proper mechanism on pesticide use in India.
Deaths In Yavatmal Go Up To 21; State Announces Relief
The death toll due to pesticide-poisoning in Maharashtra reached 39 on Saturday with the demise of three more persons (one each in Wardha, Chandrapur and Yavatmal districts). Wardha is the new district where pesticide-poisoning death was recorded. The victim, hailing from Telangana, died on October 1 but the report on the cause of death was not out till now.
A farm labourer at Yavatmal died late on Friday night. The toll in Yavatmal district now stands at 21.
The death figures have been collated by TOI from information given by government medical hospitals at Yavatmal, Akola and Chandrapur.
Chandrapur recorded the third death, with the latest victim identified as Sainath Soyam (42). According to sources, a farmer, Karnuji Kale, hired Soyam to spray pesticide on his cotton crop.Soyam had been carrying out the spraying job for the last six days without any protective gear and started complaining of uneasiness on Saturday afternoon.
He was rushed to Gondpipri rural hospital and later to Chandrapur government medical college and hospital for further treatment, sources said. He succumbed to the poison while being taken to the Chandrapur hospital.Soyam is survived by wife and two children.
Guardian minister of Chandrapur, Sudhir Mungantiwar, announced compensation to the next of kin of the victims from the CM's relief fund.
Meanwhile, minister of state for home and Chandrapur MP Hansraj Ahir on Saturday went to Yavatmal GMCH and took stock of the situation. He interacted with all the 21patients admitted in the hospital.HoD of medicine, Dr Baba Elke informed the minister that the hospital had sent 43 blood samples to the Punebased government lab but not a single report had been received so far.
On this, the minister suggested that he himself would take five blood samples with him for cross testing at AIIMS in New Delhi and the report would be made available to them in a couple of days.
He also interacted with doctors in Nagpur, Mumbai, Chandrapur and Akola on phone and requested them to reach Yavatmal as soon as possible to examine the admitted patients.
“If need be, the serious patients may be shifted to other hospitals with better facilities,“ he said.
According to Ahir, relatives of all the 16 deceased farmers and farm hands were given Rs 2 lakh each, while the remaining would be given financial assistance in a couple of days.
The Centre is keen on sending assistance, he said.“We are not going to spare anyone who is found guilty of dereliction of duties,“ he said, adding that manufacturers and distributors would also be held accountable as soon as the SIT report is submitted.
Ahir said he has instructed the district agriculture officer to ensure no one sprays pesticides without protective gear and that no spraying is done after 4pm. “ Agriculture officers would be held responsible if anyone is found violating the norm,“ he said.
Deaths of farmers and farm labourers caused by pesticide poisoning in Maharashtra might have grabbed public attention outside the state only last year after the Yavatmal incidents but the danger has been around for long.
Casualty figures of Maharashtra, shared by the agriculture ministry in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, show that pesticide poisoning has been a consistent killer with the state reporting as many as 272 deaths in the last four years. As far as last year’s incidents are concerned, Yavatmal district had reported the maximum number of 21 deaths but the remaining 42 deaths during 2017-18 were reported from 14 other districts in the state.
Incidentally, the pesticide Monocrotophos, whose unapproved mixture is reportedly blamed for majority of the deaths in Yavatmal, continues to figure in the list of 66 pesticides which are being used in India despite its ban or restricted use elsewhere in the world. The SIT, formed to probe 2017’s pesticide poisoning deaths in Yavatmal, had found during its investigation that most victims had used Monocrotophos either in its pure form or mixed with some other pesticide. It had, therefore, recommended its ban.
Though the state government had complied with the ban in November prohibiting its sale and marketing for a limited period of 60 days, it is up to the Centre to completely ban it under the Insecticides Act, 1968. Farm activist Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), however, believes the state can still do it by suspending licence or by stopping issue of fresh licences or its renewal. “If Kerala and Punjab can find ways to ban use of certain pesticides, Maharashtra too can do that. We have even an example of Sikkim which, being a fully organic state, doesn’t allow use of any chemical pesticide”, she said.
Punjab has taken such a decision with respect to 20 pesticides, including Monocrotophos, and decided not to issue any fresh licences.
The agriculture ministry, which shared the death figures in response to a Parliament question, remained non-committal. It took refuge in quoting the recommendation of an expert committee, which reviewed 66 pesticides, including Monocrotophos. The ministry, however, admitted that these pesticides are banned, restricted or withdrawn in one or more countries of the world.