Endosulfan may be banned in more than 60 countries, but India is the world’s largest producer of the deadly pesticide, says Bhavdeep Kang
THE KARNATAKA government acknowledged the link between the spraying of endosulfan in South Canara district and the incidence of congenital birth defects, skin diseases and motor ailments, saying victims would be given financial aid. The government was spurred into action when MLA and former minister Shobha Karandlaje presented disturbing statistics and pictures of deformed children in the Assembly.
Karandlaje’s report came in the wake of a declaration by Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar last month that the pesticide — a potent neurotoxin which can disrupt the human endocrine system — will not be banned in India. He was responding to a global campaign against endosulfan and increasing pressure from the EU to stop its use on cotton crops.
A couple of months ago in the UK, a “pants down” protest was staged by celebrities against endosulfan use on cotton crops after pesticide residues were allegedly detected in underwear. It was claimed that the underwear was itchy as pesticide residues lingered even after the raw cotton had been turned to cloth.
South Canara adjoins Kerala’s Kasargod, where aerial spraying of endosulfan on cashew plantations in the 1990s severely affected locals. Pictures of physically and mentally handicapped children shocked the world, compelling the Kerala government to ban endosulfan in 2001.
The pesticide is also used on cotton in Punjab’s Malwa region, known as the state’s “cancer belt”. Endosulfan was detected in measurable quantities in the blood of farmers from this region.
Karandlaje says its effects continue to be felt in the South Canara region many years after spraying was stopped. She has demanded that Karnataka, too, ban the pesticide. “In one village alone, I found 137 cases of severely affected children. Endosulfan persists in the environment for many years”.
The link between the health of farmers and the use of pesticides is well established worldwide. A study by Chandigarh’s Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research linked the incidence of cancer in the Malwa region to pesticide use. Most of the victims go to Bikaner’s cancer hospital for low-cost treatment. So high is the incidence of cancer in the region that the Bhatinda- Bikaner train has been dubbed the “cancer express”.
In Bikaner, an industry has grown around the cancer patients coming in from Punjab. There are thousands of laboratories promising “sameday” test results. “It is a racket. Imagine the authenticity of some of those tests, especially those for which results cannot be obtained in a day. We need to do an extensive study on the patients coming from Punjab,” says a senior oncologist of the Bikaner Medical College. Although it has not been proven that endosulfan directly causes cancer, it has been linked to a host of other ailments, particularly those of the nervous system, which afflict agricultural workers in Malwa.
ENDOSULFAN HAS been banned in more than 60 countries. In 2007, the prime manufacturer, Bayer, withdrew it from the US market but continued to sell it abroad.
The pesticide lobby maintains that withdrawing endosulfan will negatively impact agriculture
India is the world’s largest producer of endosulfan. The pesticide lobby maintains that withdrawing it will negatively impact Indian agriculture, apparently by destroying bee colonies! The argument goes like this: endosulfan is less toxic to bees than other pesticides. If it is banned, farmers may opt for pesticides lethal to bees, thereby destroying colonies and preventing pollination, which would “harm our country’s natural wealth of flora and fauna”. It has also accused the EU of using NGOs to unfairly target endosulfan.
The Ministry of Agriculture has sided with the pesticide lobby, even blocking the addition of endosulfan to the Rotterdam Convention on hazardous chemicals. Itchy britches notwithstanding.