Evidence is mounting on the ill-effects of endosulfan used in the cashew plantations of Kasaragod district, even as the Central government continues to be ambivalent on the issue.
A survey done by the State Health Department has identified about 4000 victims after screening of about 16000 persons. About 175 specialists from 11 departments of medical colleges had screened the patients in 17 camps conducted by the government. The specialists included those in general medicine, neurology, orthopaedics, ophthalmology, psychiatry, ENT, surgery, gynaecology, dermatology, physical medicine and oncology.
The survey and accompanying studies officially confirmed the extent of damage done by the pesticide which is still being denied by the Central government. Household survey and screening done in 11 affected panchayats during December and January identified 3937 victims. Besides, about 336 victims had been identified in nearby panchayats. The numbers are likely to go up at least by 500 as the Health Department continues to receive complaints about non-inclusion in the list. According to Dr. Mohammed Asheel, Assistant Nodal Officer of Sneha Santvanam project which is overseeing the remediation programme for endosulfan victims, new cases would continue to be reported as the effects of endosulfan would persist for another 20 years. The Department had constituted an expert team to screen fresh cases.
Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar had maintained in Parliament that there was opposition from some States to national ban on endosulfan. However, RTI activists have found out that no State government had so far written to the Centre opposing a ban. Only a few farmers and the endosulfan lobby had argued against the ban. The Banerji Committee and R.B. Singh Committee, appointed by the Central government, had advised the government against use of endosulfan near water bodies.
Endosulfan is a broad spectrum organochloride insecticide which is very toxic to organisms and environment. Studies in India and abroad had detected its residues in about 5000 most widely consumed foods including fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. High levels of endosufan residues were detected in all samples of cauliflower and brinjal taken at Ranchi (Jharkhand) in 2005. It has also been found in grapes, guava, rice and mangoes in India. (Research studies by Shahi et al, Kumari et al, Singh et al, Jayashree and Vasudevan.)
While acute toxicity from the chemical can cause death and several other problems, chronic (exposure of smaller quantities of pesticide over a long period) hits the immune, endocrine, reproductive and nervous systems, causing a wide range of problems. The insecticide is also associated with many congenital malformations. Studies have confirmed that it induces early onset of puberty in girls and late onset of puberty in boys.
The health survey done by the Kerala government showed that the 526 victims of endosulfan in Kasaragod district were bedridden. More than 2100 patients needed assistance to move around. Many had congenital malformations including skeletal and neural abnormalities. Other cases included neuro-behavioural disorders, cognitive disorders, hydrocephalus resulting in enlargement of head, mental retardation, cortical blindness, seizures, Parkinson’s disease, allergies and skin diseases besides problems related to the reproductive system and certain types of cancer.