Centre seems to be weighed down by plant-protection costs thrown up by a ban

The Centre government is ruling out a national ban on Endosulfan or support for the cause at the Stockholm Convention on the ground that no cheap alternatives to Endosulfan are available to farmers. But the Centre seems to ignore the social and health costs of continued use of the pesticide in the country.

A report of the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee, presented to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, estimates that the increase in plant-protection costs from replacement of Endosulfan by chemical alternatives in India could be zero to 40 per cent, which translates into Rs.43 crore a year. (According to another estimate, this could be anything between zero and Rs.108 crore a year depending on the number of applications).

At the same time, the package for Endosulfan victims, submitted by the Kerala government for Central assistance, seeks Rs.127 crore in the first year for relief and remediation of the victims. The State government is already committed to pay Rs.2,000 a month to bedridden and seriously ill patients numbering more than 4,000, and Rs.1,000 a month to others. The recurring costs for this and other measures would be about Rs.64 crore a year — much more than the increased costs for plant protection in the country.

This excludes compensation and rehabilitation packages needed for victims in other parts of Kerala and Karnataka. The survey of Endosulfan victims in Palakkad, Idukki and Wayanad districts is yet to be concluded. Victims are also likely to be found in the plantation of areas of West Bengal and other States. Besides, the current use of Endosulfan in India causes significant non-quantifiable environmental and health costs including loss of biodiversity. The loss suffered by farmers of Kasaragod district rearing domestic animals and bees is yet to be fully quantified. A study has found that the losses to just 45 beekeepers in an area amount to Rs.29 lakh a year.

Cases are already pending before court for establishment of a tribunal to pay compensation to the victims. If the government concedes the demand, the compensation payments could run into crores of rupees.

Loss for industry

Endosulfan manufacturers often argue that a ban would necessitate import of costly patented pesticides from European and other countries. Though this may be true in the case of some crops, the price of the pesticide in the market is not often decided by whether they are patented or not. If royalties are to be paid, it affects the profits of the manufacturer and not necessarily the costs of farmers.

The annual losses to the pesticide industry in India from a ban, the Review Committee report estimates, will be between Rs.279 crore and Rs.450 crore. However, this will come down or be neutralised if the industry is able to manufacture substitutes in India.

C. Jayakumar, who was an observer at the Review Committee meeting, says the committee has looked into the socio-economic cost of an Endosulfan ban. The cost of phasing out the pesticide is a global one and India, if it uses the right diplomatic effort, could get the entire cost supported by international funding and phase in robust alternative systems using that money.