The government of Kerala is taking an ambivalent stand on further studies on the effects of Endosulfan on human population even as Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh is slated to arrive here this weekend for discussing the issue.
The Union Minister has proposed a study by an inter-disciplinary team in different parts of the country on the effects of Endosulfan, before the Ministry acts on the demand for a national ban on the pesticide. He had suggested that Kerala could nominate a member to the committee to study the issue when Forest Minister Benoy Viswom took up the issue with the Ministry.
Though the State Minister appeared to concur with the suggestion then, he subsequently wrote a letter to Mr. Ramesh saying that what was needed was a blanket ban on Endosulfan in the country and not committees and studies. Health Minister P. K. Sreemathy has also voiced similar opinion.
The State government has already commissioned a study under the leadership of the State Council for Science, Technology and Environment. This study, however, would not be looking into cause-effect relationship of Endosulfan on the human population, but is rather directed towards finding out whether the residue of the pesticide is still present in the environment and its impact.
There are forces working against studies establishing any direct cause-effect relationship as that could bring about liability claims from the victims. Doctors do not certify that the deaths associated with internationally known symptoms of Endosulfan poisoning are caused by the pesticide. So, the victims find it difficult to prefer compensation claims though aerial spraying of Endosulfan in Kasaragod villages were undertaken disregarding several norms and without adequate precautions.
The Committees appointed by the Central government so far have maintained that no clear link could be established between Endosulfan and the health problems. The State Agriculture Department had also concurred with this view. The then Director of State Department of Agriculture was a signatory to the C.D. Mayee Committee report in 2005.
However, an expert committee of the State government headed by Additional Director of Health Services P.K. Sivaraman had observed in 2003 that circumstances and findings of other relevant studies of various agencies pointed to a casual relationship. “Since the committee could not find out any other reason that could explain the health hazards in the area, this may be attributed to aerial spraying of Endosulfan,” the committee observed.
After the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests mooted another study, the Union Ministry of Agriculture announced a parallel committee under the chairmanship of the very official who had headed the earlier study, Dr. Mayee. This invited widespread protests from non-governmental organisations and politicians belonging to both the ruling and Opposition fronts in the State.
Dr. Mayee had endorsed a discredited report of a previous committee headed by O. P. Dubey and had failed to take note of several factors that pointed to a link between Endosulfan and the health problems. Mr. Viswom said in his letter to Mr. Ramesh that appointment of the parallel committee by the Union Agriculture Ministry was highly deplorable. Dr. Mayee had been an ardent advocate of the pro-Endosulfan lobby, he said.
There is a general aversion among the affected population in Kasaragod district to fresh studies as studies after studies have chosen to be ambivalent on the cause-effect relationship. They have also brought them no significant relief or compensation. Politicians tend to echo their sentiment. However, it is to be noted that studies so far was mainly confined to Padre village of Kasaragod district. There are several other areas to be studied like parts of Karnataka, Idukki and Palakkad districts of Kerala and some areas of Tamil Nadu close to Palakkad district. Idukki's tea plantations were among the early users of Endosulfan. Though the tea plantations have since discontinued its use, the cardamom plantations of the district use them despite a ban, by smuggling-in the pesticide from Tamil Nadu.
Apex court ruling
A national ban on Endosulfan need not preclude further studies and the baseline data from Padre village is important in that regard. Endosulfan can be banned in the country now itself on the basis of the precautionary principle. The principle, upheld by the Supreme Court in a case filed by the Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum, lays down that lack of scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation where there are threats of serious and irreversible damage.