Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan went on a seven-hour fast at the Martyrs' Column here on Monday demanding a ban on Endosulfan and seeking Central assistance for the victims of the pesticide.

About 500 people from different walks of life joined the fast, held as part of a State-wide observation of Anti-Endosulfan Day by the government.

Later, they took a pledge to fight the menace of the pesticide. Food and Civil Supplies Minister C. Divakaran administered the pledge.

In districts

Ministers led protests at district headquarters, including Kasaragod, where about 5,000 people were affected by aerial spraying of the pesticide in cashew plantations of the State-owned Plantation Corporation of India.

The fast coincided with a Conference of Parties to Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants that began in Geneva on Monday.

The conference will consider a global ban on the pesticide which has reportedly caused more than 150 diseases, mostly affecting the nervous, immune, and reproductive systems.

Launching the fast, the Chief Minister said the dangers of using Endosulfan were getting more acute with more cases being reported from different parts of the State and outside. In Karnataka, 96 villages were affected, he noted.

Manmohan misled

Referring to the Central government's stand that a national ban was possible only if health problems were reported from other States also, he said it was regrettable that the Centre chose to wait for more deaths. Endosulfan was a poison that should not be used anymore. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had been misled by those supporting the pesticide lobby.

When an all-party delegation from the State met the Prime Minister recently, he chose to side with his Ministers who stood for the pesticide industry. Mr. Achuthanandan said the issue should be resolved above politics, as it concerned all.

The Chief Minister took lime juice from poet Sugathakumari at 5 p.m. to end the fast. Speaking on the occasion, he said India's stand against a global ban on the pesticide was deplorable.

Mr. Divakaran presided over the agitation. Minister for Public Works and Law M. Vijayakumar welcomed the gathering. State Education Minister M.A. Baby, Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Union Minister of State, O. Rajagopal, film actor Suresh Gopi, Members of Parliament and Legislative Assembly, and several writers and artists were among those who joined the protest.

According to reports from districts, organisations such as the Democratic Youth Federation of India, the Karshaka Sanghom, the Kerala Government Medical Officers Association, service organisations, film personalities, and their organisations either associated with the government-sponsored fast or organised their own protests. These included marches, signature campaign, public meetings and burning of effigies.