A recent report of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) suggesting that ‘fake’ pesticides could account for 10.6 million tonnes of lost production, besides causing immutable damage to soil fertility, environment and various forms of life has stirred the conscience of an agriculture economy as big as India. The report further warns about the consequent rejection of Indian export of agriculture produce which could cost the country another US$28 billion. The report has ignited a debate about the lack of a robust mechanism to curb the menace of manufacturing and selling sub-standard, spurious and counterfeit pesticides in the country.
The India’s use of pesticides is whopping 76 per cent as against the world average of 44 per cent. However, the use in agriculture is less than 350 gram a hectare as against the world average of 500 gram. Surprisingly, 51 per cent of India’s food commodities are generally contaminated with pesticide residues, out of which 20 per cent has pesticide residues above the permissible level, which exposes the human race to irreversible neurological disorders, cancer and premature deaths and infestation of environment.
At present, 260 technical grade pesticides and 585 pesticide formulations are registered in India under section 9(3) of the Insecticides Act, 1968 (read with the Insecticides Rules, 1971) as on 31st October, 2016 whereas the exact number of registration under section 9(4) is shrouded in mystery since the information is withheld from public domain. It is estimated that the number may run into several hundreds.
To become eligible to get a license for manufacturing a pesticide in India under section 9(3), a person has to wade through field trials, scientific research, and testing of the product at three different locations for no less than two crop seasons whereas a registration under section 9(4) is offered on a platter without adhering to any scientific protocol. What an applicant has to do is to simply approach the Central Insecticide Board & Registration Committee (CIB & RC) and submit that he too (read “Me too”) would follow the same formulation and procedure for the manufacture of the product as mentioned by the person to whom the licence has originally been granted under section 9(3). It offers the self-proclaiming manufacturers a safe passage to flee from the scientific scrutiny of the efficacy of the product and purity of the procedure to formulate an effective and environment-friendly pesticide.
“Notwithstanding anything containing in the section, where an insecticide has been registered on the application of any person, any other person desiring to import or manufacture the insecticide or engaged in the business of, import or manufacture thereof, shall on application and on payment of prescribed fee be allotted a registration number and granted a certificate of registration in respect thereof on the same conditions on which the insecticide was originally registered,” it says.
It is obvious that no risk of using an ‘untested’ pesticide can be taken as its efficacy depends not only on the quality, genuineness and percentile of the technical grade material (active ingredient) used therein but also on the quality and source of procurement of the inert matter and also the manufacturing process thereof. It is precisely this legally manipulative provision ingrained in section 9(4) of the Insecticides Act, 1968 which is playing havoc. It is a pity that in spite of grave risks involved, the pesticides are freely being manufactured and traded in India without an effective control mechanism.
This provision was thoroughly examined by the Punjab & Haryana High Court in CWP 17230 of 2011 and CWP 14750 of 2012. The CIB & RC admitted in its reply that the “… registration under Section 9(4) of the Act is granted on extremely relaxed criteria i.e. merely on submission of Form-I supported by certain statutory documents without submission of any technical data… However, over the years, it was observed that registration under Section 9(4) had become prone to mischief… the registrant could procure technical grade material from a source other than the one mentioned in Form-I.”
The High Court vide its landmark judgment dated 3rd March, 2015 held that “…every registered insecticide is of a formulation brought through unique process. Same compound formulations may come through different processes. The product through different processes may not necessarily have same safety or efficacy. There may be impurities in one process which may not be in another registered insecticide brought through a technical manufacturer tested before registration under Section 9(3) … To that extent source of supply becomes very relevant. Another technical manufacturer having the same formulation may still have a different efficacy for the product which is brought through another process. Indian patent law protects not merely process patent but also product patent… The requirement imposed by the authorities that the technical manufacturer shall give an affidavit of supply during the tenure of the certificate of registration is a reasonable demand.”
Pesticide consumption in India
Year Quantity (Unit: MT Technical Grade)
Per capita consumption of pesticide
The per capita consumption of pesticides in India is 0.6 kg/hectare which is the lowest in the world. The per capita pesticide consumption in China and USA are 13 and 7 kg/hectare respectively. Surprisingly, it is 7.6 kg/hectare in Haryana and still substantially higher in Punjab.
Whether mere submission of an affidavit would suffice in itself is a moot question? Certainly, there needs to be in place an effective monitoring apparatus to verify the veracity of averments made in the affidavit and cross-check the sources of active technical material and inert compound used in the pesticide. It is no denying that such registrants under section 9(4) often purchase highly toxic material from suspicious and illegal sources from within or outside India for the manufacturing of pesticides with no fear of scrutiny. Only a thorough investigation can reveal the truth and expose the profiteers.
The first known pesticide was elemental ‘sulfur dusting’ used about 4,500 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. The Rig Veda, which is about 4,000 years old, refers to the use of poisonous plants for pest control. By the 15th century, toxic chemicals such as arsenic, mercury and lead were being applied to kill pests. In the 17th century, ‘nicotine sulfate’ was extracted from tobacco leaves for the purpose. During the 1940s manufacturers began to produce synthetic and arsenic-based pesticides. Herbicides became common during 1960s.
Most pesticides are used in agriculture, but in 1999 about 74 per cent of households in US were reported to use at least one pesticide in the home. No such data is available for Indian homes. Pesticidal usage became common in developing countries also and the fastest growing markets are in Africa, Asia, South and Central America, Eastern Mediterranean and India. Although developing countries use only 25 per cent of the pesticides produced worldwide, they experience 99 per cent of the deaths due to weaker regulatory mechanism.
During 1960s, it was discovered that DDT was meddling in the reproduction of fish-eating birds. It started getting resistant also which was confirmed in Africa as early as 1955, and by 1972 nineteen species of mosquitoes worldwide were found resistant. Though the agricultural use of DDT is banned under the ‘Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants’ but even then it is still being used in some developing nations.
Uses of pesticides
Pesticides are used to control organisms and kill mosquitoes that can transmit deadly diseases like West Nile virus, yellow fever, and malaria. They also kill bees, wasps, other natural pollinators and ants that cause allergic reactions. Insecticides can protect animals from illnesses caused by parasites such as fleas. Herbicides can be used to clear roadside weeds, trees and brush. Uncontrolled pests such as termites can damage structures. Pesticides are also used in grocery stores and food storage facilities to manage rodents and insects infesting food-grains. By eliminating pests, the pesticides eventually enhance productivity of food-grains. However, the use of a pesticide carries some associated risks as well which get deadlier for the sustenance if applied indiscriminately.
Quantum of pesticides used
In 2006 and 2007, the world is estimated to have used approximately 2.4 mega tonnes of pesticides, with herbicides constituting the biggest part of the world pesticide use at 40 per cent, followed by insecticides (17 per cent) and fungicides (10 per cent). Out of it, the US alone used approximately 0.5 mega tonne of pesticides, accounting for 22 per cent of the world total, including 857 million pounds of conventional pesticides, which are used in the agricultural sector as well as the industrial, commercial, governmental, home and garden sectors. The US used some 1 kg per hectare of arable land compared with 4.7 kg in China, 1.3 kg in the UK, 0.1 kg in Cameroon, 5.9 kg in Japan and 2.5 kg in Italy. Insecticide use in the US has declined by more than half since 1980.
Pesticides can save farmers’ money by preventing crop losses to insects and other pests; in the US, farmers get an estimated fourfold return on money they spend on pesticides. One study found that not using pesticides reduced crop yields by about 10 per cent. Another study, conducted in 1999, found that a ban on pesticides in the United States may result in a rise of food prices, loss of jobs, and an increase in world hunger. No such study is in public domain in India as yet.
Pesticide exposure can cause a variety of adverse health effects, ranging from simple irritation of the skin and eyes to more severe effects such as affecting the nervous system, mimicking hormones causing reproductive problems, and also causing cancer. Limited evidence also exists for neurological impairment, birth defects and foetal death.
The World Health Organization and the UN Environment Programme estimate that each year, 3 million workers in agriculture in the developing world experience severe poisoning from pesticides. Owing to inadequate regulation and safety precautions, 99 per cent of pesticide related deaths occur in developing countries that account for only 25 per cent of pesticide usage. According to one study, as many as 25 million workers in developing countries may suffer mild pesticide poisoning every year. One study found pesticide self-poisoning the method of choice in one third of suicides worldwide. No separate findings are available for India.
Effects on environment
Over 98 per cent of sprayed insecticides and 95 per cent of herbicides reach a destination other than their target species, including non-target species, air, water and soil. Pesticide drift occurs when pesticides suspended in the air as particles are carried by wind to other areas. Pesticides are one of the main causes of water pollution, and contribute to soil contamination as well. In addition, pesticide use reduces biodiversity, contributes to pollinator decline, destroys habitat for birds, and endangers species. Pests develop pesticidal resistance over a period of time, necessitating a new pesticide. Alternatively, a greater dose is used to counteract the resistance, although this will further aggravate the problem instead of solving it.
Global distillation is the process whereby pesticides are airlifted from warmer to colder regions of the Earth, in particular the Poles and mountain tops. Pesticides that evaporate into the atmosphere at relatively high temperature can be carried considerable distances, say thousands of kilometres, by the wind to an area of lower temperature, where they condense and are pushed back to the ground in the form of rain or snow. Thus, it creates a cyclic rotation. In order to reduce negative impact, it is, therefore, desirable that pesticides be degradable or at least quickly deactivated in the environment.
Alternatives to pesticides are available and include methods of organic cultivation, application of composted yard waste, use of biological pest controls, genetic engineering, and methods of interfering with insect breeding.
Cultivation practices include polyculture (growing multiple types of plants), crop rotation, planting crops in areas where the pests that damage them do not live, timing planting according to when pests will be least problematic, and use of trap crops that attract pests away from the real crop.
Interfering with insects’ reproduction can be accomplished by sterilizing males of the target species. This technique was first used on the screwworm fly in 1958 and has since been used with the med fly, the tsetse fly, and the gypsy moth. This, however, is quite costly and time-consuming.
Some evidence shows that alternatives to pesticides can be equally effective as the use of chemicals. For example, Sweden has halved its use of pesticides with hardly any reduction in crops. In Indonesia, farmers have reduced pesticide use on rice fields by 65 per cent while getting an increase of 15 per cent in productivity. A study of maize fields in northern Florida found that the application of composted yard waste with high carbon to nitrogen ratio was effective at increasing crop yield, with yield increases ranging from 10 per cent to 212 per cent; the observed effects were long-term, often not appearing until the third season of the study. However, in India, there are no concerted efforts to monitor the impact.
In most countries, pesticides must be approved for sale and use by a government agency. In Europe, recent EU legislation has been approved banning the use of highly toxic pesticides including those that are toxic to reproduction, those that are endocrine-disrupting, and those that are persistent. Though pesticide regulations differ from country to country, pesticides on which they were used are traded across international borders.
To deal with inconsistencies in regulations among countries, delegates to a conference of the United Nations FAO adopted an international code of conduct on the distribution and use of pesticides in 1985 to create voluntary standards of pesticide regulation for different countries. The code was updated in 1998 and 2002. The FAO claims that the code decreased the number of countries without restrictions on pesticide use.
Reducing the use of pesticides and choosing less toxic pesticides, integrated pest management, use of multiple approaches to control pests, is becoming widespread and has been used with success in countries such as Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, the US, Australia and Mexico though India is yet to rise to the occasion.
All the forms of life, human, aquatic, fauna, flora or avian are racing into extinction because of the indiscriminate use of pesticides across the world, particularly in India. The beginning of celebrating World Sparrow Day on 20th March each year signals that the melodic chirping of seed-eating sparrow has already gone silent.
According to a recent survey, more than two lakh people are dying every year because of pesticidal poisoning which has triggered a worldwide debate whether pesticides are a boon or a bane for the human civilization. Pesticides may be a boon in as far as they kill pests, eliminate fatal diseases and hike the productivity of food-grains to feed the starving billions but, at the same time, alas, their toxicity woefully exposes the human race and environment to irreversible damage. It, therefore, calls for introspection if we have to annul the cascading effect of pesticides on the environment and human race.
The Government should consider making seed treatment compulsory to minimise the occurrence of crop diseases thereby reducing the use of pesticides to the extent possible. The mischievous section 9(4) should either be annulled or, in the alternative, its possible misuse be made culpable with stringent safeguards as is applicable to section 9(3) with effective monitoring on the use of technical grade material. The record of all the entities registered under section 9(4) should be examined to establish the genuineness, quality and source of active and inert compounds used in the formulation of pesticides.
The list of such companies should also be displayed on the CIB & RC’s website. All registered pesticides ought to be reviewed periodically every 10 or 15 years to maintain their chastity as is being done in the US. The Government should also expeditiously ensure the introduction of The Pesticides Management Bill, 2008 to address the gaps from previous regulations and keep the habitability of our Mother Earth intact, stresses Sanjeev Aggarwal, a leading anti-pesticide activist.