Kerala Minister for Agriculture Mullakkara Ratnakaran wrote to the Union Minister of Agriculture Sharad Pawar on Wednesday urging him to initiate urgent action to ban the manufacture and use of Endosulfan and its formulations under different trade names in the country and also to move the Stockholm Convention for a consensus to ban it world-wide. He spoke to The Hindu on his demand. Excerpts from the interview:
Why are you demanding a national ban on Endosulfan?
I feel that it is not desirable for any government to neglect the health hazards. In a democratic set up, it is the prime duty of the government to allay the fears of the suffering citizens and to take measures to help them recover from overwhelming sense of powerlessness and despair. The ban has to be national to protect the people.
Union Minister for Civil Aviation Vayalar Ravi asks why Endosulfan is still being used in Kerala. His contention is that the Chief Minister should answer for the smuggling of Endosulfan into Kerala. However, it is the Prime Minister who should actually answer the question. Only a national ban could ensure non-use of Endosulfan. If Endosulfan is banned in Kerala alone, it would not help.
But the State’s agriculture officers are to enforce the ban under the Insecticides Act?
An agriculture officer can only stop people when they are using it. He cannot stop the smuggling of the pesticides in jeeps and other vehicles. If the use of Endosulfan is to be totally eliminated in the State, a national ban is required.
The second issue is the arrival of vegetables, fruits and other commodities contaminated with
Endosulfan into the State. Thus Keralites becomes victims of Endosulfan.
The majority of nations of the world has banned Endosulfan and are seeking global ban along with Kerala and Karnataka States. When Kerala and Karnataka are standing with the world, India is not standing either with the world or its States.
Since agriculture officers cannot check vehicles, do you feel that the police or other agencies should be empowered to conduct the searches?
We have made arrangements to check some of the routes. However, Endosulfan is being brought under different names and labels. Only an agriculture officer can detect whether something, being carried in a vehicle, is Endosulfan. We cannot post technical officers to check every vehicle. The police or tax officials alone cannot detect consignments as that could lead to legal complications. That is why there is limitation in checking smuggling. So, the answer is a national ban.
You said contaminated vegetables and other items are reaching the State. Do you have any estimates?
No, our laboratory facilities are inadequate. People are cultivating vegetables for own use and for marketing differently. There is heavy use of pesticides in items produced for sales. Kerala becomes the victim of such practices. The city dwellers of the producing States might also be getting affected.
The Center is saying that there is no cheap alternative for Endosulfan?
The current debate is that organic insecticides should be locally made to suit the local needs and environment. China, Argentina and other developing countries have already received funding from U.N. agencies for substitution of endosulfan with safer alternatives. There are indeed alternatives.
If chemical alternatives are not there, other alternatives should be pursued?
Yes. If the cost is high, the Centre should subsidise. Or the Centre and the State should together subsidise use of such alternatives.
The Director of Agriculture of Kerala was a member of the Mayee Committee which had said that no link had been established between the health problems in Kasaragod district and Endosulfan. The Director had signed the Committee’s report in 2005. This still remains the official finding of Kerala’s Agriculture Department before the Centre. You have made no amends to that through an official communication?
What was wrong with that finding was that it was not right for experts in agriculture technology to reach a finding on matters connected to health and environmental effects of Endosulfan. Experts in health should speak about the health effects while soil and agriculture scientists and environmentalists may make their contributions. Then, there are doubts whether our laboratories were equipped to determine the presence or effects of Endosulfan sprayed a decade ago. So, we should go by the findings made elsewhere in the world. Endosulfan has been banned in 81 countries after evaluating the impacts. And, in many cases, they had taken into account the experience in Kasargod besides their own studies. So, it is strange that India, where Kasaragod lies, fails to ban Endosulfan. You cannot justify such a stand in a democracy.
But my question was whether the Agriculture Department should not officially correct the stand it took five years ago with respect to Mayee Committee report?
That is a technical question. What you say is that it needs correction. My contention is that even the constitution of Mayee Committee was in error. A committee of agriculture scientists alone was not competent to determine the issue. Of course, the finding needs correction through a multi-disciplinary study.
Then, why the government opposing further studies proposed by the Centre?
We are not saying that there should not be any further studies. What we say is that no further studies are needed for banning endosulfan. There could be any number of studies after banning the pesticide.