India opposing Endosulfan ban at Stockholm Convention

Roy Mathew

Many deaths in Kasaragod owing to poisoning caused by the chemical

The sixth meeting of the Persistent Organic Pollutants’ Review Committee of the Stockholm Convention in progress in Geneva on Monday.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Governments here and abroad are watching India’s stand on Endosulfan at the sixth meeting of the Persistent Organic Pollutants’ Review Committee (POPRC) of the Stockholm Convention that began in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday.

While most of the governments represented at the Stockholm Convention are taking stands in favour of a global ban on Endosulfan, India is opposing it. The Kerala government has demanded a ban on the pesticide with Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and Forest Minister Benoy Viswom writing to the Centre demanding that it adopt a stand in favour of a ban at the review committee meeting.

It is an issue in the elections to the local self-government institutions in Kasaragod district, 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.

Mayee panel

It was during the United Democratic Front 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 the State-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala and the health problems.

Though Ministers of the LDF government have since written to the Union government seeking a ban on the 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 the 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 past 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 Kerala High Court order.

Review committee

C. Jayakumar of the Thiruvananthapuram-based non-governmental organisation Thanal, who is attending the review committee meeting as an observer, said that the 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 a prime conflict here with the Endosulfan manufacturers from India and industry lobby organisations objecting to the process (for proscribing Endosulfan),” Dr. Jayakumar said in an e-mail message from Geneva.

The 31-member review panel is scheduled to consider the draft risk management evaluation of Endosulfan and its adverse effects on human health, besides a few other issues. India has maintained that if Endosulfan is not available, the need to use other insecticides will result in greater plant protection costs, excessive bees’ mortality and frequent use of narrow spectrum insecticides. Alternatives are not cost-effective in all situations.

Organisations such as the International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) argued that considerable adverse human effects had been caused by exposure to Endosulfan.

“In 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.