Governments here and abroad are watching India’s stand on endosulfan at the sixth meeting of the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC) of Stockholm Convention that began in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday.
The Kerala Government has demanded a ban on the pesticide with Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan and Forest Minister Benoy Viswam writing to the Centre demanding that it should adopt a stand in favour of ban at the Review Committee meeting.
It is an issue in the elections to the local self governments in Kasaragod district of Kerala where at least a few hundred people have died of poisoning caused by the chemical. Many face a wide range of genetic abnormalities and other health problems. However, the people of Kasaragod know that successive governments have only paid lip service to their cause.
It was during the UDF government led by Oommen Chandy that the then Director of Agriculture Jyothi Lal, as member of the Mayee Committee that reviewed the safety of endosulfan, supported the Committee’s finding that that no link had been established between the use of endosulfan in the cashew plantations of State-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala and the health problems reported from Kasaragod district.
Though Ministers of LDF government has since written to the Central government seeking ban on manufacture, sale and use of endosulfan; no supporting evidence contradicting the findings of the Mayee committee had ever been sent to the Centre by the State government. This was when the State government acknowledged that the health problems in 15 villages of Kasaragod district were on account of the aerial spraying of endosulfan for more than two decades.
The Mayee Committee had recommended conduct of a comprehensive, well-designed and detailed health and epidemiological study in the entire plantation area. However, nothing was done in that direction for the last five years. A committee has been set up to conduct a study nearly three months ago; but it has only started its work. The use of endosulfan had been banned in the State on the basis of a High Court order.
While most of the governments represented at the Stockholm Convention are taking stands in favour of global ban on endosulfan, India was opposing it. C. Jayakumar of the Thiruvananthapuram based non-governmental organisation Thanal, who is attending the Review Committee meeting as an observer, said that government of India had told the meeting on Monday that there was no ban in Kerala, though the use had been put on hold. “It is prime conflict here with the endosulfan manufactures from India and industry lobby organisations objecting to the process (for proscribing endosulfan),” Dr. Jayakumar said in an email message from Geneve.
The 31-member Committee is scheduled to consider the draft risk management evaluation of endosulfan and the adverse effects of endosulfan on human health, besides a few other issues. India has maintained that if endosulfan is not available for use in India, the need to use other insecticides would result in greater plant protection costs, excessive bees’ mortality and frequent use of narrow spectrum insecticides. Alternatives were not cost effective in all situations.
Organisations such as International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) argued that eliminating endosulfan from agriculture and substituting safer alternatives, especially agroecological practices, would have a positive impact on agricultural production.
In notes submitted to the meeting, IPEN said that elimination of endosulfan production, use, export and import through a listing in Annex A of the Stockholm Convention would have a positive impact on human health and the environment by decreasing emissions of a substance that warrants global action.
“As outlined in the Risk Profile, endosulfan is toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative. There is evidence of widespread contamination of the environment, wildlife, the human food chain and human body tissues. If endosulfan production and use is not eliminated, then levels in the environment and humans will continue to rise, even in locations distant from production and use.”
It said that considerable adverse human effects had been caused by exposure to endosulfan. Numerous intentional and unintentional deaths have occurred from ingestion of endosulfan, and poisonings had been reported in Benin, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkey and United States of America.
“In the Kasaragod district in Kerala, sustained exposure to endosulfan resulted in congenital, reproductive, long term neurological damage, and other symptoms. There were observations of similar effects in animals: cows giving birth to deformed calves, cows and chickens dying inexplicably, domestic animals with miscarriages, bleeding, infertility, stunting of growth and deformities, as well as fish kills and dwindling populations of honeybees frogs, and birds,” it said quoting a study by India’s National Institute of Occupational Health.
It further pointed out that a committee set up by the Kerala State Health Department to study the health hazards of endosulfan recently observed that the major impacts of exposure in the villages included increased congenital abnormalities including limb and cardiac abnormalities, severe mental retardation including cerebral palsy and hydrocephalous, cancers, and skin diseases. Most of these conditions had led to death or permanent disabilities.
“Whilst 500 deaths have been officially acknowledged, unofficial estimates place the figure at around 4,000. More than 9,000 people are reported to have health problems resulting from the exposure to endosulfan. Recent reports indicate another 137 victims of endosulfan in the neighbouring State of Karnataka.”