The former Karnataka Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Shobha Karandlaje, has launched a fresh struggle in her new role as an activist: she spearheads a campaign for a nationwide ban on endosulfan, an organochlorine pesticide, used as an aerial spray on cashew plantations.

The pesticide linked to unusual diseases and deformities in human beings and animals has been banned in Kerala after the media reported its adverse impact on the people in Kasaragod.

In New Delhi to meet the new Bhartiya Janata Party president, Nitin Gadkari, Ms. Shobha spoke to The Hindu about her campaign among the farmers of Dakshina Kannada. “I was an activist then [as a Minister] and I am an activist now,” she said.

Ms. Karandlaje was forced to resign from the Karnataka Cabinet so that Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa could keep his job. She said the aerial spray of endosulfan on cashew plantations affected the population in the district in such a way that in each house, there were people who were either mentally or physically handicapped. It also hit the drinking water in wells, animals and the soil.

Ms. Karandlaje, who conducted a study in the region, said people in the Puttur and Belthangdi taluks were suffering from cancer, diseases affecting the central nervous system, skin diseases, respiratory disorders, eye problems and impotency, all of which could be linked to the use of the pesticide. “I want to put up the strongest fight in the country for the ban of endosulfan,” she said.

“All people who are fighting against this are receiving threats from the powerful pesticide lobby. I too have received phone calls saying I must keep out of this,” she said.

“Several countries have banned the use of this harmful pesticide, which is why the multinational companies have shifted their operations to India. Last November, there was a pants-down protest in the U.K. because the undergarments made from cotton sprayed with endosulfan caused itching,” she said.

Demanding that the pesticide manufacturers compensate the people suffering in her home district of Dakshina Kannada, Ms. Karandlaje said she had raised the issue in the Assembly after, which the State government released financial assistance for the victims.

Opposing the use of such pesticides that were harmful and banned in most countries, she said multinational companies pushed their products in India, and “we allow them without testing [their products] for ill-effects on humans, land and cattle.” “We must carry out proper studies. India is ahead in these things and we can do it. We should use milder controls in the farm sector, and certainly not as aerial sprays.”

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