The Kasargod conundrum

It appears that Endosulfan was good for the world only as long as the EU was manufacturing and exporting it. Endosulfan was a widely-used pest-protection in agricultural economies for decades. There have been no alleged ‘victims’ of Endosulfan anywhere in the world except the select provinces in Kerala and Dakshina Kannada where trial by media has shaped public perception over eight years to promote questionable claims.

In response to claims connecting Endosulfan with human disorders in these regions, six committees and expert groups including representatives from health, environment and agriculture departments were set up by the governments of Kerala, Karnataka andIndia. Each committee has concluded that none of the alleged victims were conclusively affected by Endosulfan. The committee findings have been methodically dismissed at the will of vested interests in the form of NGOs and certain media. Many erroneous reports emerged from the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) report titled, ‘Report of the investigations of unusual illnesses allegedly produced by Endosulfan exposure in Padre village, of Kasargode district (N. Kerala),’ which was proved to be fundamentally flawed. Among these was the noted NIOH report, ‘Effect of Endosulfan on Male Reproductive Development.’

The NIOH report published in 2002 had fundamental inconsistencies as observed by scientists and experts. For instance, the residue levels reported by the NIOH were far below the minimum detection limit of the instruments used for the study. Since the raw data recorded by NIOH for determining Endosulfan residues in water, soil and blood samples were fundamentally flawed, the subsequent analyses were further divergent. Letters were sent to NIOH under the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) seeking copies of raw data and chromatograms relevant to the study. It took three hearings and two orders by the Chief Information Commissioner for the 1,700 pages of raw data to enter public domain. The inconsistent excuses given by NIOH authorities while refusing the request made under the RTI Act were telling signs of a cover-up. Most of the released data has been ‘masked.’ On examining the remaining data, experts learned that the analysis conducted by NIOH had sure laboratory failings. The conclusions drawn did not corroborate with the data and the complete analysis is now believed to have been drawn up. International conventions and regulatory authorities worldwide, including theRotterdam andStockholm conventions have referenced the NIOH report while reviewing Endosulfan.

A Dodgy Game: NGOs like Kerala-based Thanal and Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) have all produced reports linking Endosulfan to adverse health problems including cancer, infertility, birth defects and neurotic disorder. However, not only are these based on the tainted NIOH reports, but also deliberate. A $3,250 donation was made to Thanal in 2001 by EU-funded Pesticides Action Network (PAN). A similar contribution was made by the EU to CSE to implement a project on ‘Polley Research and Awareness Creation in the Field of Environmental Health Interface and Development of an Alternative Pollution Monitoring System’ from 2000 to 2006. One of the objectives of the CSE programme was to ‘catalyse the formation of pressure groups.’ The intent of these pressure groups is quite obvious. (Copies of these documents are with the authors.) CSE had also targeted Pepsi and Coca Cola alleging that their soft drinks had high residues of pesticides. Their finds were later quashed by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Is it coincidence that EU made donations to the NGOs at the same time that it was seeking to discontinue Endosulfan production?

Supported internationally by PAN, EJF (Environment Justice Foundation) and I-PEN (International POP’s Elimination Network), such NGOs with vested interests have effectively used media to generate a negative public perception of Endosulfan. Studies with results that were not in keeping with their agenda have been publicly mocked and rejected. Such was the case of aKeralaAgriculturalUniversitystudy that found insignificant residues of Endosulfan in collected samples in February 2001.

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The Battle between European Pesticide Manufacturers and India’s Farmers

Since India overtook the global production of Endosulfan, Indian farmers were able to amply reap the benefits of this beneficial-friendly, cost-effective pesticide. Assumed to be in use for almost three decades in India prominently in the states of West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, it has become a staple pest-protection for crops such as cotton, tea and coffee. The Indian farmer spends a reasonable sum of about Rs 250 a liter on Endosulfan. Endosulfan is safe on beneficials and pollinators like honeybees, and has been proved to be reasonably safe on users given that necessary precautions for handling are taken, as with any pesticide. Unlike its substitutes that develop resistance of use within 3–5 years of product introduction, Endosulfan is as effective as it was half a century ago. It has been observed that in comparison to Chloropyrifos and other organic methods of pest control in coffee plantations, Endosulfan has been most successful in preventing incidences of berry borer. Not only is the pesticide affordable, but fast-acting. This attribute ensures quick crop damage control and prevents huge losses from infestations. Endosulfan protects a variety of 29 crops from 60 types of infestations. Imidachloprid (Rs 2,000/litre), Thiamethoxam (Rs 3,200/litre) and Coregen (Rs 700/litre) are the pesticides promoted as replacements for Endosulfan. Wherever Endosulfan has been substituted by more expensive alternatives like Neonicotinoids, it has resulted in the elimination of pollinators. In their absence, farmers will have to depend on expensive bee boxes that cost as much as Rs 90,000 to pollinate a one hectare farm. Thus, a shift from using Endosulfan will undoubtedly amount to manifold increase in farm input cost and further worsen the dismal condition of Indian farmers. Endosulfan is the third largest-selling generic insecticide globally with a market value of more than $300 million. 40 million litres of the pesticide is used globally, while 12 million litres are consumed in India per annum. In an effort to convert this massive Endosulfan market into one for its patented substitutes, the EU has been unlawfully pushing for its inclusion in the list of Persistent Organic Pollutants at the Stockholm and Rotterdam conventions. For this, it has attempted to stir up a melee through dubious reports spun by NGOs like Kerala-based Thanal and Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). These studies are also based on the flawed NIOH report. On the basis of such evaluations and by downplaying the findings of the government committees, the nexus of polity, activists and media are mounting pressure on the central government for a nation-wide ban on Endosulfan. Political parties are viewing the episode as an opportunity to appease their vote banks. In Kerala, where Endosulfan has been banned, there is much emphasis on the virtues of organic farming. However, it is doubtful whether the same would be equally effective for employment on a large scale across India while ensuring minimal crop loss. Recent news reports suggest that the ban has compelled farmers there to resort to smuggling Endosulfan into the state in cans and bottles. With no substantial evidence to prove the Kasargod claims, it is prudent to decide whether the whims of vested interests are significant enough to effect a change that is sure to impact the enormous section of the Indian population engaged in agriculture. References: A Srinivas “Planters find ally in endosulfan to combat berry borer in coffee” in The Hindu Business line, July 28, 2010

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Reviewing the Alternatives of Endosulfan

Since EU lost its share of the Endosulfan pie when it went generic decades ago, their recent promotion of patented pesticides is only part of its attempt to re-enter global pesticide trade. Since their attempts to compete with Indian Endosulfan producers and regain their lost markets did not meet with success, some of them are understood to have resorted to unfair trade practices. By churning out unfavourable stories surrounding Endosulfan through patronage to certain NGOs, the EU appears to be out to recapture their markets by any means possible. Now, in order to counter the affordability, utility and beneficial softness of Endosulfan, EU is engaging in illegal attempts to introduce Endosulfan as a Persistent Organic Pollutant in the Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions. They hope that a total ban will initiate a shift in global pesticide demand patterns.

Endosulfan is a broad-spectrum pesticide active ingredient that is sprayed on a range of 29 crops to protect them from about 60 types of pests. The most prominent benefit of Endosulfan over other pesticides, including those touted as its replacements, is that it is safe for beneficials and pollinators, such as honeybees. Endosulfan is the last pesticide in use that is recommended as a first-spray during pollination by agriculture scientists and entomologists worldwide. The replacement of Endosulfan would not only result in incalculable and irreplaceable harm to biodiversity and the agriculture ecosystem, but also present an additional cost of pollination to farmers. SinceIndiabecame a prominent Endosulfan producer,India’s farmers have trusted its use in a variety of crops, especially coffee, tea and cotton. The states of Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are the top consumers of Endosulfan inIndia. More than 12 million litres of Endosulfan is used here per annum. In order to be popularly accepted, any substitute for Endosulfan will have to possess similar attributes.

Imidachloprid (Rs 2,000/litre), Thiamethoxam (Rs 3,200/litre) and Coregen (Rs 700/litre) are the pesticides promoted as replacements for Endosulfan. Presently, the Indian farmer spends Rs 250/litre for Endosulfan. Therefore, the obvious repercussion of a shift from using Endosulfan is the manifold increase in the cost of pest-protection. The next cost to emerge with the replacement of Endosulfan is that of the potential purchase of bee boxes. Bee boxes cost as much as Rs 90,000 for pollinating a 1-hectare field of crops in the absence of honeybees. Wherever Endosulfan has been substituted by more expensive alternatives like Neonicotinoids, it has resulted in the elimination of pollinators. Imidachloprid, the most popular Neonicotinoid is blamed for killing bees and is banned in France, Germany and Slovenia, among other European nations.

Affordability as a factor will be an impossible offering for patented pesticides from the EU. If the European agenda to free up a brand new market by banning Endosulfan meets success, farmers in developing nations and India in particular, will be left in financial ruin. If they consider options touted by local governments, they will have to rely on methods like organic farming. This means risking their produce for a method that if successful, may not possess the effectiveness for a required scale. News reports suggest that the present situation has now compelled farmers in Kerala, where Endosulfan is banned, to resort to smuggling the pesticide into the state in cans and bottles. The clash of ‘patented versus generics’ threatens to leave many such innocents in a lurch.

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Will The Government Force Farmers To Commit More Suicides

Agriculture, the principal occupation in India has been acutely inequitable to its practitioners over the last couple of decades. With former late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s credo ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ lain to waste, farmer suicides have since been the cause of much socio-economic debate. It is estimated that a farmer owning 15 acres of land and considered well-off has an income of just a little more than what he would have earned if he were to earn a yearly legal minimum wage. Budget 2010 earmarked considerations for automatic management systems and cold storage. Whether these will offer tangible relief to agriculture is still to be seen. Yet, it is becoming essential for the government to lay greater emphasis on the affairs of cultivation by developing adequate sensitivity to the support infrastructure required today.

A time bomb in the making is the issue of Endosulfan. SinceIndiaovertook the global production of Endosulfan, Indian farmers have reaped the benefits of the pesticide for a wide range of crops including cotton, tea and coffee. In use for almost three decades in India in the states of West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, the beneficial-friendly, cost-effective farming pest-protection costs a farmer Rs 250/litre. In case of a ban on Endosulfan, Indian cultivators will be forced to purchase patented European pesticides at much higher prices. Imidachloprid, a product touted as a replacement to Endosulfan costs Rs 2,000/litre. Other alternative pesticides such as Thiamethoxam (Rs 3,200/litre) and Coregen (Rs 700/litre) are expensive as well. Unlike Endosulfan, most alternatives destroy much-needed honeybees and other beneficial populations required for pollination. It may force farmers to look for highly expensive alternatives for pollination. Besides, the alternatives to Endosulfan also develop resistance of use within 3–5 years of product introduction.

InIndia, farmers depend on naturally occurring colonies of honeybees and beneficials like ladybird beetle, chrysoperla, trichograma for the pollination of their crops. As they are naturally occurring, they play their part at no cost to farmers. Most of Endosulfan’s substitutes are harsh on bees and are therefore banned in many nations. Today farmers in countries where Endosulfan is banned depend on the use of bee boxes for pollination. Such bumblebees initiate pollination at a cost of US$1 per bee (approximately Rs 45). At that rate, it would cost Rs 90,000 for the Indian farmer to pollinate a 1-hectare field of crops in the absence of honeybees. Not only will the use of such pesticides result in almost a ten-fold cost increase for farmers, but also destroy the agro-ecosystem.

Today, NGOs and local polity in southernIndiaare heavily espousing the benefits of organic farming in Kerala where Endosulfan has been banned. However, with limited financial resources to purchase costly pesticides or absorb losses from ineffective pest-control, cultivators do not have many options. Recent news reports suggest that the situation has now compelled farmers in the region to resort to smuggling the pesticide into the state in common cans and bottles.

Due to increasing costs being incurred by farmers and not enough returns, most of them are already debt-ridden. Some are already selling off valuable stretches of their fertile lands to industries and urban developers. With no substantial scientific evidence to prove the Endosulfan claims in Kerala and Dakshina Kannada, it is prudent to decide whether the whims of vested interests are significant enough to effect a change that is sure to impactIndia’s colossal farming population.


M Rajivlochan “Farmers and fire-fighters” in Indian Express, August 28, 2007

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Endosulfan has been used for over 50 years across the world and has proven to be a key element in the integrated pest management systems across various countries. There has been no evidence of Endosulfan affecting human health or on any other plants and organisms. The sole case, raised by some NGOs and other vested interests, in the anti-Endosulfan campaign has not been scientifically proven as yet and has been questioned on its credibility by a series of scientific studies. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support on reports that link Endosulfan to diseases and deformities in Kasargod, Kerala. On the other hand, we have our own doubts as to how this tragedy happened only in Kerala because Endosulfan is used in large volumes across India. All the reports which claim that Endosulfan is the cause behind the deformities in Kerala have been found to have scientific data gaps and some of them have proven to be forged. We believe that the NGOs that champion the ban on Endosulfan have been directly funded by the European Union (EU) through some of its official channels.

Being in use for over half a century, Endosulfan is very effective on pests while being soft on pollinators. It is said to be almost equivalent to the neem, which is considered in India as the best natural pesticide. Also, a liter of Endosulfan costs about Rs. 250 making it extremely affordable and economical for the poor farmers. And the reason behind it being so cheap is that it is a generic molecule. The patented pesticides proposed by the EU to replace Endosulfan have not been cleared scientifically as safe and are up to 10 times more expensive. We would like to reiterate that Endosulfan, unlike majority of the other pesticides, is soft on pollinators which help the farmers by pollinating and cross-pollinating. This is very essential for the ecosystem as well as for farmers.

WHO and other such organizations of international importance do not consider Endosulfan as carcinogenic or genotoxic. It has been proven that Endosulfan degrades very fast in the environment and also in the human and animal bodies, which we believe is enough to know that it is not harmful to humans or the ecosystem.

So if you want good food in the future and want our farmers to provide us with the same, sign this petition!

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Cascading effects of flawed NIOH report on Endosulfan

In 2002, National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad published a study titled, “Report of the investigations of unusual illnesses allegedly produced by Endosulfan exposure in Padre Village of Kasargod district (N. Kerala)”. It was followed by another study made by the NIOH titled, “Effect of Endosulfan on Male Reproductive Development.” Both of these studies have become available on internet for public access. During thorough readings of these reports, scientists and experts have noted that the studies have several serious scientific errors relating to the residue analysis of Endosulfan.


Experts have found that the Instrument Detection Limit (IDL) of Gas Chromatography (GC), which is used for chemical residue analyses in these reports, was 1 part per billion (1 ppb) for Endosulfan. However, the studies carry residue finding as low as 0.4 ppb and 0.5 ppb, which fall much below the minimum detection level of the instrument used. This is scientifically indemonstrable. There were many more representative omissions and flaws noted in these studies by experts.


Subsequently, several requests were made by experts to the NIOH to provide ‘raw data’ for review and reprocessing to uncover any laboratory fraud made in this case. But, all these requests, made under the Right to Information Act of India, fell on deaf ears. For many years, NIOH has made various excuses for hiding these details but finally in 2010, with the interference of the Central Information Commission, provided 1,700 pages of raw data to the experts. However, large amount of information has been masked by the NIOH in the shared raw data. Now the question arises that if NIOH is confident of its work, why has this data been masked? Such acts of NIOH provide much insight and indicate that the data and analysis of the studies, and the resulting findings were based on inaccurate readings.


These studies have been cited at various national and international forums and referred to by various Indian and global authorities to propose a ban on Endosulfan. When found fundamentally flawed and incorrect, they should have created uproar across the world. Questions should be raised on the credibility of the NIOH. As a government body, NIOH is responsible to validate reports before publishing them. However, its attempts to discourage wide review of the raw data are astonishing.


On November 15, 2010 a group around 10,000 in number and comprising workers’ families and farmers, have presented a memorandum to the District Collector of Bhavnagar, requesting immediate withdrawal of the NIOH report on the grounds discussed above. The Indian Chemical Council has also written to the Prime Minister of India, requesting a call for a comprehensive scientific audit of the NIOH reports and to punish those who are guilty of committing laboratory frauds.


On account of various such requests, a panel has been formed to study the impact of Endosulfan in Kerala. The expert panel, which includes representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment, will be directly administered by the Health Department. The Central Government is expected to reference the findings of this expert panel before taking its decisions on the Endosulfan issue.

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Taking Advantage

I am always amazed by the extent to which we humans take advantage of others’ problems. And we go to an even greater (read lower) extent when that person is not well equipped with knowledge about a certain thing related to his/her problem.

Take an example of my friend. He had this friend of his and she was feeling very lonely and wanted to be with someone. He took the opportunity and asked her out. They were together for a while and when the physical part of the relationship was done with, he dumped her. She was devastated. It was for her other friends that she got back to normal in a while.

Well, this happens not only on the personal level, but on the national level as well. Our dearest politicians make promises to the people who need them the most and hence, believe the politicians’ lies. And as it was all lie, the promises are never kept after they get elected.

Look at it this way, you are awfully hungry. A friend comes and offers you food in return of some work he wants you to do. You do the work, but afterwards he hands you pictures of food and not actual food. Won’t you feel enraged at his act? Didn’t he break your trust?

To give you an even better example, take the endosulfan issue. The NGOs offered help to the victims of some kind of disease. What they did at the same time was, took money from the EU and related the whole diseases and problems to endosulfan, the pesticide which was sprayed aerially in that area in Kerala. And sent out pictures of the victims all over the media and hence all over the world and created an anti-endosulfan view around the world. Well, i suppose the NGOs were there to help the victims, but if I know correctly, none of them have been properly helped. Neither did the NGOs help the victims, nor are they helping the government to help the victims and because of it, in whatever camps, etc are being organized by the government for the victims, people who are not victims are also joining it and taking advantages and the facilities that the government provides for the victims. Well, all this because i believe the NGOs never really wanted to work for the victims. What they took advantage of was the illiteracy of the villagers.

We all are bloody opportunists, what makes us good or bad is, how badly do we take advantage of others’ problems.There are some people though who never actually take advantage of others’ issues, but they are very rare.

What side would you want to end up on?

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Endosulfan ban: no clear battle lines drawn

Bangalore: Mohammed Asheel, assistant nodal officer of the Kerala government’s endosulfan rehabilitation programme, recalls his initial scepticism at the reported effects of the fertilizer in Kasargod, the northernmost district of Kerala.

“I found it difficult to believe that 158 different diseases were caused by one chemical like endosulfan,” said Asheel, a doctor who coordinated relief work in Kasargod in 2010, at a press conference held by a Kannada newspaper in Bangalore in March this year. “But when I further studied the pesticide, I realized the mechanisms causing diseases were well documented.”

Controversial chemical: A file photo of a farmer spraying insecticide in his field. India is the world’s largest consumer of endosulfan.

Controversial chemical: A file photo of a farmer spraying insecticide in his field. India is the world’s largest consumer of endosulfan.

Asheel played a role in the culmination of a sequence of events that began with a 2002 study carried out by the National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad, suggesting that misuse of endosulfan through aerial spraying over the cashew estates of Kasargod may have caused a range of genetic, reproductive and developmental disorders. A follow-up study in 2003 by the Kerala government also pointed the finger at endosulfan. The state banned the pesticide that year.

Neighbouring Karnataka has now imposed a 60-day ban after similar health effects were reported in the district of Dakshina Kannada. Environmental groups are welcoming the ban, but asking why there isn’t a nationwide one.

India is the supplier of 70% of the world’s endosulfan needs—a market valued at $300 million (Rs 1,340 crore). Out of the 9,000 tonnes India produces every year, half is bought by the country’s 75 million farmers, making it the world’s largest consumer of endosulfan.

Much of it is used by farmers with small and marginal holdings, because endosulfan is cheap—Rs 286 per kg—and has a broad spectrum of effects. Alternatives such as flubendiamine and imidacloprid cost Rs 13,800 and Rs 2,229 per kg, respectively. Endosulfan is sprayed on all major crops such as vegetables, cotton, pulses and rice to combat pests such as whitefly, leafhoppers, aphids and cabbage worms, without harming insects such as bees, which help in pollination. “This is one of the safest insecticides for pollinators,” said A.K. Chakravarthy, entomology department head at Bangalore’s University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS).

While pesticide manufacturers dispute the evidence on endosulfan’s safety, as many as 70 countries, including the US, Australia, Brazil and 27 European Union (EU) members have restricted its use, up from 17 in 2000.

The pressure on endosulfan is mounting. In 2010, the persistent organic pollutant review committee under the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty to eliminate the usage of toxic chemicals, nominated endosulfan for inclusion in a global ban list. Discussions on this will happen in April, when the Stockholm Convention meets again.

The EU is pushing for a ban, with countries such as India resisting.

“Twenty-seven of the countries with bans are European—they act as a major bloc. Now they have stopped importing cocoa from Africa, resulting in bans in 21 African countries which depend on EU as an export market,” said R. Hariharan, chairman of the International Stewardship Centre (ISC), a non-governmental organization that has observer status at the convention, and is working to prevent the ban.

Under the Stockholm Convention, a chemical that is sought to be banned has to be persistent in the environment, bioaccumulative, capable of long-range transport and undermines human health.

Persistence in environment refers to how fast the chemical degrades, as measured by its half-life—the time taken for it to decay to 50% of its size. The convention considers a half-life greater than 183 days as persistent, and the US Environmental Protection Agency’s estimate of 1,336 days under aerobic conditions for endosulfan puts it in the highly-persistent territory. In tropical conditions, though, the half-life is shorter at 161-385 days.

Bioaccumulative means the chemical increases in concentration in the food chain with time.

“Endosulfan belongs to the organochloride group. Chemicals in this group, like the banned DDT, are known to be bioaccumulative,” said P.K. Shetty, researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Sciences at Bangalore’s Indian Indian Institute for Science. “Endosulfan can get into the food chain in many ways—from algae, into fish, into humans. Or it can be consumed by humans through contaminated wheat or fruit.”

Studies have demonstrated long-range environmental transport of endosulfan as well. A 2005 study carried out in the Arctic region, and published in the journal Science of The Total Environment, detected elevated levels of endosulfan, whereas levels of banned chemicals like DDT were falling. This shows it travelled beyond the immediate area of usage. The same study showed a threefold increase in concentration of the chemical in the blubber of Beluga whales. According to a fact sheet issued by the Pesticide Action Network of Europe, “Endosulfan is now found extensively…in remote ecosystems such as Arctic, Antarctic, Great Lakes, Canadian Rockies, Costa Rican rainforests, Alps and Himalayas.”

Hariharan disputes the findings.

“Firstly, there are significant scientific gaps (in endosulfan research). I can point you to other studies that show that the half-life of endosulfan in tropical climates like India is far shorter,” he said. “There is only one Canadian study that shows a half-life greater than 180 days and it cannot be applied to India given the vastly different climate. We need data that is representative of the region, but parties like the EU tend to cherry pick data.”

Among the research papers he points to is a 1997 study carried out in Haryana and published in the peer-reviewed Pesticide Journal, which establishes endosulfan’s half-life in soil at 39-42 days.

Organizations such as ISC and the Crop Care Federation of India (an association of pesticide manufacturers) say any research carried out by the EU and others like it would be biased. “Most reports have an agenda,” said Anil J. Kakkar, director of the Indian Crop Care Federation and vice-president (marketing) at Excel Crop Care Ltd, one of the three companies in India that manufacture the active ingredient of endosulfan. “Endosulfan is now off patent and brings in far lower margins. So they want to push substitutes which offer greater premiums.”

The Indian representatives at the Stockholm Convention are in discussions with various ministries, including agriculture, health and chemicals, to finalize the stance for the April meeting. Rajiv Gauba, joint secretary in the ministry of environment and forests, who represents India at the convention, says he cannot comment on what the country’s position is going to be unless the discussions are completed. The agriculture ministry didn’t respond to queries from Mint.

In a 22 February Parliament session, though, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar argued that farmers in several states had been using endosulfan with good results and that the four expert committees set up since 1991 had all recommended its continued use. He said the problems in Kerala were due to improper usage.

Hariharan of ISC said there are no viable alternatives to endosulfan in a country like India. “The convention initially claimed that there were nearly 100 alternatives. But after screening, only six were found to have properties such as being pollinator-friendly and non-toxic,” he said. “Then there is the question of affordability, because these are all patented products, unlike endosulfan.”

Government indecision stems from the lack of scientific consensus. Shetty said there is no need for further evidence.

“It is difficult to pinpoint the long-term impact of any chemical. Even if endosulfan is not yet a proven carcinogenic, there may multiple other health effects that may go undetected because nobody has concertedly researched usage in India,” he said. “Mild symptoms like headache will go unreported, while cases of acute poisoning need an India-wide study. When 70 countries have already banned it, we can afford to follow suit.”

There have been isolated reports of ill effects from cotton farmers in Maharashtra in the 1980s and cashewnut plantations in Orissa in the 1990s as well as parts of Tamil Nadu, Assam, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, pointing to the toxic effects of endosulfan.

“The reason Kerala shot into prominence was because the impact was so widespread. About 10,000 people over 4,500 hectares were affected,” said C. Jayakumar, a sociologist from Kerala who has been studying the issue in Kasargod since 1999. The improper use of pesticides is another point of debate in the row. “India did not have the ultra low-volume formulation suitable for aerial spraying (in Kasargod),” Chakravarthy of UAS said. “Instead, the formulation meant for knapsack sprayers and hydraulic sprayers was used, which had a higher concentration of the chemical. Humans were obviously going to be affected badly.”

Kasargod has a hilly terrain with numerous water bodies that weren’t covered up during the spraying, leading to the water getting contaminated. The spraying was carried out for more than a decade without checking build-up in the soil or being rotated with other chemicals.

“These are compounds a company manufactures under controlled conditions with handlers wearing gloves, etc.,” he said. “Then the product is suddenly passed on to illiterate end users without any instructions.”

Shetty, a proponent of pesticide stewardship—or its proper, controlled use—points out that developed countries use 80% of all pesticides and yet have the fewest instances of mortality and disease related to the chemicals. He belongs to the group that wants manufacturers to educate farmers on proper use.

“In 2000, the manufacturers hadn’t suggested that a different formulation was needed for aerial spraying. Only now, in retrospect, has the issue come up,” Jayakumar said.

Hariharan takes a different view.

“It is the regulator who decides pesticide usage. Manufacturers cannot be held fully liable. Also, even if the proper guidelines weren’t followed, does it justify a complete ban?”

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Farmers from Gulbarga disagree with the ban in Karnataka

Farmers from Gulbarga on Wednesday filed a miscellaneous petition in the high court to implead them in a petition filed by Endosulfan Manufacturers’ and Formulators’ Welfare Association (EMFWA) challenging the endosulfan ban imposed by the government.

The farmers claimed that they did not have any harmful effect after using the pesticide for the past two to three years. “The ban is against the expert committee report formed by the government to study the effects of endosulfan use in 2004. The ban affects the livelihood of about 5,000 people who are employed in the industry,” said the petitioners’ lawyer.

The government had banned endosulfan on February 19, 2010 on the basis of disability and diseases caused by the pesticide in several villages of Dakshina Kannada District.


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Farmers Know Best

The typical Indian farmer is a small and marginal farmer with land holdings between 1 and 5 hectares. For farmers like these, agriculture is barely a business—at least, not a profitable one. Most of these farmers are involved in sustenance farming and toil for a hand-to-mouth existence. They can afford to pay very little for crop-protection and cannot bear losses caused by sub-standard, ineffective products. That is why they prefer Endosulfan, which is extremely affordable, effective and can be used on a large variety of crops.

Since farmers spend their days on the fields, they are fully aware of the dangers and benefits of all their farm inputs. They recognise the services provided by pollinators like honeybees as well as beneficial insects like ladybird beetle that devour on pests that harm crops. Since these insects appear at the same time as pests, they have to be dealt with differently. Endosulfan is the only in-use pesticide that is soft on pollinators and beneficial insects. Since they are unharmed with the use of Endosulfan and can continue regulating harmful pests, still lesser pesticide can be used. This bodes well for Indian farmers that are frugal with pesticide use.

So, when we decide that Endosulfan is bad for farmers, we take away their right to choose. We disregard their experience of Endosulfan use and impose our prejudices on their operating economies. Unfortunately, most of our farmers are distant from popular media and are unaware of the fate befalling them. It is, therefore, up to us—folks like you and me to direct their voices to where it will matter most—and save them from heading to the brink of survival.


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