Kerala government is in a fix with the National Human Rights Commission issuing notice to the State government for non-payment of adequate compensation to victims of pesticide endosulfan in Kasaragod district.
The Commission had recommended, in its order in December last, payment of Rs. 5 lakh as compensation to the next of kin of persons who died following exposure to the pesticide and those who became bed-ridden or mentally retarded. However, the current Budget allocation of the State government is inadequate to pay this sum. The Commission is planning to approach the Supreme Court for execution of its orders, if the government failed to pay up.
The government had announced an increase in the compensation from Rs. 50000 to Rs. 1 lakh to the victims and budgeted funds are being released. “We are acting in stages. Educational assistance had already been given to children of families affected by endosulfan,” notes the Agriculture Minister K. P. Mohanan.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy says that Rs. 500 crore would be required to pay compensation to all the victims. Central assistance was sought for this as the State government alone could not pay the amount.
However, the Centre has not yet taken a stand favourable to the request from the State government. Mr. Chandy is expected to press for the package proposed for the victims when he visits Delhi this month.
The previous government had taken a decision to allocate land belonging to the Plantation Corporation of Kerala to the victims as compensation. However, this has invited protest from the trade unions. Moreover, there are doubts whether the proposed area would have residues of endosulfan or its metabolites. If the present government favours the proposal, it is imperative that land free of endosulfan residues is identified for rehabilitation.
Though the government had taken some initiative for relief and rehabilitation of the victims immediately after its coming to power, efforts have since slackened. A district level cell was formed recently to coordinate and review relief and remediation efforts. However, it is yet to meet. There are also complaints that non-governmental organisations and others, who were active in helping the victims, were excluded from the committee. It is now purely a body with large number of government officials, legislators and office-bearers of local self governments.
Steps to provide pure drinking water is lagging. No effort had been taken to cleanse areas where endosulfan residues are still being detected and no action had been taken against those who were responsible for indiscriminate use of the pesticide.
Survey to identify victims in other parts of the State too has come to a standstill, though victims are known to exist in several estate areas. Epidemiological studies are called for in several areas of Idukki, Wayanad and Palakkad districts.