The Business as Usual Scenario vs Freezing the Footprint of Food

Also watch video recorded 19th November 2009.
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Jason Clay ran a family farm, taught at Harvard and Yale, worked at the US Department of Agriculture and spent more than 25 years working with human rights and environmental organizations before joining the World Wildlife Fund in 1999. Now, as Senior Vice President of Market Transformation at WWF, Clay influences the way governments, foundations, researchers, and NGOs identify and address risks and opportunities for their work. He brings people together to improve environmentally sensitive practices in agriculture and aquaculture. In his Food for Thought lecture, Jason focuses on creating global standards for producing and processing raw materials from plants, particularly in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and water use. Outreach in Biotechnology’s Food for Thought Lecture Series brings together internationally recognized experts to talk about the best (and worst) ways to use biotechnology for food and fuel.

Companies had failed to surrender their registration certificates despite letters being sent to them by CIBRC.

Soon after the Supreme Court ordered the interim ban on endosulfan on May 13, the agriculture ministry issued letters to the different departments, the following day, for the compliance of the nation wide ban. Licensing Officers and Insecticides Inspectors were issued orders to implement the ban. Letters were sent to the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC) and the directorate of plant protection among other departments to ensure that there is an immediate ban on manufacture, sale and use of the pesticides.

As it turns out, the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, in a letter dated May 18, had directed all pesticide manufacturers association to direct all registrants of endosulfan to surrender their certificates of registration to the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee without any delay.

But till June 3, none of the registrants of endosulfan had surrendered their certificate of registration to the CIBRC. Following no response from the registrants, the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation has stated that the registration is now deemed to be withdrawn with effect of the interim order issued by the Supreme Court.

So now not only is the production, use and sale of endosulfan illegal as per the Supreme Court order, but it also now becomes illegal on the subsequent CIBRC’s administrative decision for compliance with the court orders of withdrawing registrations.

Second letter
Letters were sent to the pesticide manufacturers association like Crop Care Federation of India, Pesticides Manufacturers and Formulation Association of India, Confederation of All India Small and Medium Pesticides Association and Agrochemicals Manufacturers Association of India. However, the implementation of the ban still remains lose.

While the letters exchanged within the agriculture departments suggest that companies were taking their time to submit their registration certificates, endosulfan manufacturers like Excel Crop Care, soon after the May 13 order of the Supreme Court, went to the press saying that they had suspended the production and sale of the pesticide all over India.

Endosulfan ban leaves HIL in the lurch

With a countrywide endosulfan ban looming, Hindustan Insecticides Limited (HIL), a major manufacturer of the controversial pesticide, may struggle for survival.

One of the few profit-making government enterprises, HIL earns 50% of its revenue from the sale of endosulfan.

Rights groups and political and civil organisations had been demanding a blanket ban on the pesticide that killed several people in the state’s Wayanad and Kasargod districts.

The Supreme Court’s recent directive against production and use of endosulfan and the Centre’s agreement on a conditional ban on the pesticide at the recent Stockholm convention have almost sealed the fate of manufacturers.

HIL, which employs more than 500 people, however, is yet to decide on how to deal with the looming financial crisis.

Unit head K.K. Dhar said the company would explore the possibility of using the endosulfan plant on the outskirts of the city to manufacture another product. But implementing the plan will take at least a couple of years.

“Of course, we can convert the plant for production of some other product. But that needs a lot of groundwork, studies and clearance. We can’t take hasty decisions on such matters,” Dhar told Deccan Chronicle.
To add to its woes, state pollution control board (PCB) recently slapped a closure notice on the company for its failure to remove a hazardous chemical effluent.

As a result, plants in the unit have been closed since May 15.



CSE welcomes Supreme Court ban on endosulfan

Calls it a ‘resounding defeat’ for pesticide industry which has been promoting this deadly toxin

New Delhi, May 13, 2011: Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has welcomed today’s Supreme Court order banning the use, sale, production and export of endosulfan with immediate effect.

This landmark judgment comes on the heels of India’s grudging acceptance at the Stockholm Convention that endosulfan is a serious health hazard and that it should be banned.

Says CSE director general Sunita Narain: “We congratulate the judiciary of the country and thank it – the judgement has restored our faith in democracy. We also congratulate the civil society organisations in Kerala which have been working relentlessly towards banning this deadly toxin and bringing the matter to the notice of the national media.”

Endosulfan, an organochlorine pesticide and a known endocrine disruptor and neurotoxic, has led to serious health concerns in Kasaragod district in Kerala and the adjoining Dakshin Kannada district in Karnataka. Over 20 years of aerial spraying on cashew plantations in these states has left many with mental and physical disorders.

A 2001 study by CSE had established the linkages between the aerial spraying of the pesticide and the growing health disorders in Kasaragod. Over the years, other studies have confirmed these findings, and the health hazards associated with endosulfan are now widely known and accepted.

Says Narain: “Despite this evidence which proves the toxicity of the pesticide, the government had – all this while — chosen to consistently deny and prevaricate in support of the industry.”

CSE researchers who have been tracking the endosulfan case point out that the Indian government had accepted the reports of the O P Dubey committee and the C D Mayee committee — both of which had given a clean chit to endosulfan.

CSE, on the other hand, has consistently exposed the flaws in these reports. “These reports have been manipulated, the facts in them are distorted and dissenting voices have been suppressed,” say CSE researchers.

Pesticide industry suffers a resounding defeat
The court’s order has essentially vindicated the stand taken by civil society organizations, and has shown the door to the pesticide industry’s bullying and intimidatory tactics.

The pesticide industry had left no stone unturned to arm-twist victims of endosulfan, as well as the civil society groups and scientists who had been fighting for their cause. Virulent slander campaigns and public demonstrations attacking and bullying these groups and individuals had become the order of the day.

Today’s judgement, says CSE deputy director general Chandra Bhushan, makes it clear that “the industry’s immense financial clout and money power has been completely annihilated by the poor and feeble victims of endosulfan. It is a great leap forward for Indian democracy.”

Says Narain: “India is on a pesticide treadmill. Farmers are being sold one toxic pesticide after another. The government needs to initiate policy change and come up with cheaper and safer alternatives. It is time India moved towards safe agriculture and better health for its farmers.”

  • For more details, please contact Savvy Soumya Misra on 9818779535 or write to her at
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ఎండోసల్ఫాన్ పైన అంతర్జాతీయ నిషేధం: ఆలోచించాలిసిన విషయాలు

ఎండోసల్ఫాన్ అనే అత్యంత ప్రమాదకరమైన రసాయినిక పురుగు మందును అంతర్జాతీయంగా నిషేదించాలని ఈ రోజు (29 ఏప్రిల్, 2011) స్విట్జర్లాండ్ దేశంలోని జెనీవ నగరంలో జరిగిన సమావేశంలో నిర్ణయించారు. స్టాక్ హోమ్ ఒప్పందంలో భాగంగా జరిగిన చర్చల తరువాత ఈ నిర్ణయం వెలువడింది. పర్యావరణ వాదులు మరియు ఆరోగ్యకరమైన వాతావరణం కొరకు పని చేస్తున్న వ్యక్తులు మరియు సంస్థలు ఈ నిర్ణయాన్ని స్వాగతించాయి.

ఎండోసల్ఫాన్ వాడకం వలన కేరళ, కర్ణాటక తదితర రాష్ట్రాలలో అనేక మంది అనారోగ్యం పాలు కావటం జరిగింది. వేల మంది ప్రజలు బుద్ధి మాంద్యం, పుట్టిన శిశువులలో అంగవైకల్యం మరియు క్యాన్సర్ బారిన పడ్డారు. అనేక మంది మహిళలు మరియు అమ్మల ఆవేదనకు ఈ నిర్ణయం ప్రతిస్పందన. ఈ నిర్ణయం రైతులకు ఎంతో మేలు చేస్తుంది. వారిని ప్రమాదం నుంచి తప్పిస్తుంది. ఎండోసల్ఫాన్ నిషేధం వలన ఆర్థిక నష్టం నుంచి విముక్తి లబిస్తుంది.

ఈ నిర్ణయం జరగకుండ కొన్ని పరిశ్రమ వర్గాలు, కొంత మంది నాయకులు మరియు మన కేంద్ర వ్యవసాయ శాఖా మంత్రి అనేక ప్రయత్నాలు చేశారు. ప్రజల శ్రేయస్సు పట్టించుకోకుండా, సిగ్గు లేకుండ స్వార్థంతో, వ్యాపార ప్రయోజనాల కొరకు ఈ నిషేధం ఆపడానికి విశ్వ ప్రయత్నాలు చేశారు. చివరికి, అంతర్జాతీయ సమాజం ఏకాకి గా భారత ప్రభుత్వం మిగిలే పరిస్థితి ప్రస్ఫుటంగా కనపడి నప్పుడు, ఇంకా మొండి వైఖరి అవలంబిస్తే పట్టించుకోరేమో అనే భయంతో, కొన్ని వెసులుబాట్ల కొరకు మన ప్రభుత్వ ప్రతినిధి ప్రయత్నం చెయ్యడం జరిగింది. నిస్సిగ్గుగా భారత ప్రభుత్వ వైఖరి, పరిశ్రమ ప్రతినిధి కనుసన్నలలో రూపొందడం అంతర్జతీయ సమాజంలో అందరిని ఆశ్చర్య పరిచింది. ఇంతటి సువిశాల దేశంలో, ఒక ముఖ్యమైన అంశం గురించి ప్రభుత్వమూ ఎక్కడ చర్చించకుండా కేవలం ఒక వ్యక్తి సూచనల మీద ఆధారపడడం నిజంగా శోచనీయం. ఇది పూర్తి స్థాయిలో దర్యాప్తు చేయవలసిన అంశం.

ఈ నిషేదానికి తూట్లు పొడిచే ప్రక్రియ ఆయా వర్గాలు చేసే అవకాశాలు చాల ఉన్నాయి. వాటిని నివారించాలన్న, భవిష్యత్తులో ఇతర పురుగు మందుల వాడకం గురించి పునరాలోచన చెయ్యాలన్న ప్రజల అవగాహన పెరగాలి. పత్రికల మరియు మీడియా సహకారం ఎంతో అవసరం. ఎండోసల్ఫాన్ విషయంలో వారి సహకారం ఎంతో ఉంది.

వచ్చే పార్లమెంట్ సమావేశాలలో పురుగు మందుల యాజమాన్య ముసాయిదా బిల్లు ఆమోదించే ప్రయత్నం ప్రభుత్వం చేయబోతున్నది. ఇప్పుడున్న రూపంలో, ఈ బిల్లులో అనేక లోపాలున్నాయి. అనేక సవరణలు ప్రతిపాదించటం జరిగింది. కాని, పరిశ్రమలు మరియు కార్పోరేట్ కంపెనీలకు దాసోహం అయిన ప్రభుత్వం ఈ సవరణలు పట్టించుకోవడం లేదు.

డి. నరసింహ రెడ్డి

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.

Assault on farming: Punjab Government ties with Syngenta


Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Now it is understandable that government machinery in Punjab is more worried to offer market to MNCs rather then serving the genuine interests of farmers. Recently a Punjab government agency Markfed has signed a MoU with Syngenta to provide agrochemicals and its right practices on farmers’ doorstep.

This indicates that either the government officials do not have understanding of real crisis of farmers or they do not want to understand it. There is a strong third possibility also that Marked and its parent department wants to serve MNCs only sans the poor farmers.

Kheti Virasat Mission-KVM deplores this move of Markfed. The will prove a disaster for the farming and ecology of Punjab. This is an anti-farmer and anti-environment step and will jeopardize the possibilities of ecological sustainability of agriculture in Punjab. 

It is ironical that the Minister for Cooperation Capt Kanwaljit Singh was present in person in this MoU signing ceremony. This irony turned in to a tragedy when Minister speaking on the occasion urged the company to develop eco-friendly crop protection inputs. What an incident Capt Kanwaljit Singh is giving the responsibility of protecting ecology to a known environmental offender and poison merchant.

While speaking on the occasion Capt Kanwaljit asserted that ” The state is facing threat of disease due to overuse and misuse of pesticides, which is both unmanageable and unacceptable……so the need of hour is cutting costs and bringing in environment-friendly and safe methods of crop protection.”. It is a great statement indeed. But minister was betting on wrong side. Those who are known environmental scandalous cannot and should not be asked for environmental solutions. 

    The Markfed is more enthusiastic to serve MNCs and become their extension arm to market their products.  First it was Bt cotton in 2005. Then CM Capt Amarinder Singh very passionately makes Markfed the distributing arm of Mahyco for Bt cotton seeds. There was euphoria at that time and Markfed has published advertisements in newspaper singing happily about its achievement. Mahyco is a Monsanto owned company. 

After Monsanto now it is Syngenta.

Monsanto sold Bt cotton with a promise to reduce use of pesticides and now Syngents is entering with promise to provide extension services to farmers to educate them about right method of pesticide use. It is regrettable that government executives, agriculture experts and technocrats and departments dealing with agriculture or farmers particularly are still obsessed with the pesticides and their so-called safe use. They cannot think of agriculture without agrochemicals. After witnessing adverse impacts of pesticides several countries are now pursuing the pesticide free farming. There are several successful examples of chemical free natural / organic farming in the world, in India and even in Punjab. 

Chemical pesticides were pushed in indiscriminately. Forty years after the advent of green revolution, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Manila, Philippines now clearly accepts its mistakes in promoting pesticides and has gone on record saying that ‘pesticides were a waste of time and effort’ in Asia for rice. Punjab Agricultural University however continues to push in pesticides knowing well that these were not required in the first place. In case of cotton, agricultural scientists have compounded the problem by turning the insect profile hostile. There were only six or seven pests that worried the cotton farmers in the 1960s. Today the number of cotton pests has multiplied to over 60.

Studies done by ICRISAT and IRRI clearly demonstrate the sustainability, viability and successful economics of Non-Pesticide Management practices. Farmers in Bangladesh, Philippines and Vietnam have successfully opted for pesticide free rice cultivation. The Cuba has also shown the way. Former Director General of IRRI, Dr. Robert Cantrell had this to say: “It shows that the mistakes of Green Revolution where too much emphasis was sometimes put on the use of chemicals for pest control have clearly been recognized and corrected”.

But irony of Punjab is that the agriculture establishments are not open to this truth of pesticides and even they are not tolerant to any question and debate related to pesticides and environmental health crisis. They are still in green-revolution mindset and insulated from alternative paradigm for sustainable agriculture, environment and development. The agriculture establishments feel honour of their role played in green revolution, it could be their proud. They already got pat for that, they earned whole lot of admiration for the work they had done, but now it is time to have an honest introspection and constructive criticism. Those who are supported Green Revolution setups until now should own responsibility of its adverse effects.

The Markfed and Ministry of Cooperatives should open to know more about the alternative paradigm of agriculture, they should came forward  to learn from the farmers committed to ecological practices. Capt Kanwaljit rightly raise the issue of rising cost of production and depleting returns ,but he should be aware of the fact that every village is exporting cash roughly something between Rs  25 lakhs to 5 crors , depending upon its area, cropping pattern and ecological factors. If the minister is really sincere in saving and serving farmers he and his department should encourage natural farming. We should proudly shout -“Say No to Pesticides”. It is only way to save ecology of Punjab, it is only way to bring Punjab out of devastating environmental health crisis. 

Punjab government has no vision, no roadmap for restructuring agriculture to make its agriculture ecologically sustainable. Neither they have any plan to learn from farmers nor do they want to promote any civil society initiative in this regard. Government is just promoting corporate model of farming. This is symbol of intellectual impoverishment and bankruptcy of thoughts and ideas.    

Syngenta is also known for hiding facts related to adverse effects of its bestseller herbicide Atrazine. The scientists working on test the effects of Atrazine on African clawed frogs found that Atrazine inhibits development of the larynx in male frogs at low doses, that Atrazine, at even lower doses, feminizes male frogs by altering the testes so they will produce eggs. Syngenta even tried to purchase the silence from the concerned scientists.  

Pesticides are only one side of coin of doom, the Genetically Modified seeds are waiting to spill the new era of sorrow.  Syngenta will use this MoU to create market for its GM seeds. The company is trying to get proper IPR protection for its seeds. Syngenta has done a day light robbery on rice.  This Swiss biotech giant based at Basel in Switzerland, has tightened its monopoly control over rice. Seeking global patents over thousands of genes in rice (a single grain of rice contains 37,544 genes, roughly one-fourth more than the genes in a human body), the multinational giant is all set to “own” rice, the world’s most important staple food crop. Syngenta claims it invented more than 30,000 gene sequences of rice. Syngenta in collaboration with Myriad Genetics Inc of USA had beaten Monsanto in the game of mapping the genetic structure of rice by sequencing more than 99.5 per cent of the rice genome. Syngenta’s efforts to seek control over rice have severe implications for the future of rice research and its resulting impact on food security and hunger. For countries like India or Japan, one of the seats of origin of rice, it is an ominous sign. In other words, biological inheritance of the world’s major food crop is now in the hands of a Swiss multinational. If Syngenta’s application for global patents is accepted, the Asian countries will lose all control that comes through ‘sovereign’ control over genetic resources (as defined by the
Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992) of the staple grain.

Syngents is going to bring its GM seeds with in next few years; the company is preparing its market network from now courtesy Markfed.

Marked is working like Mir Jafar for MNCs which is highly intolerable. This MoU will prove battle of Plassey and will pave way for total corporate takeover of Punjab agriculture. Those who are signing these documents should prepare them selves to be known as Mir Jafars. History will teach then a lesson.

It is high time that farmers of Punjab should resist and revolt against this onslaught on their sovereign right over natural resources and knowledge system.

(Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission civil society ecological action group based at Jaitu town in Faridkot district, Punjab. Phone: 9872682161, E-mail:

Green revolution's cancer train


Pesticides and cancer: a murderous concoction, a massive environmental and health disaster, while people are dying in village after village of Punjab
By Sandeep Yadav Faridkot/Muktsar
Despite the relentless suffering, 41-year-old Karamjeet Kaur is not scared of death. Member of a proud, landed family in Kotbhai village in district Muktsar, this mother of three has been diagnosed with uterus cancer. The revelation has brought no change in her daily chores, except that she has to travel long distance for periodic check-ups at the Acharya Tulsi Regional Cancer Treatment and Research Centre, at Bikaner, in Rajasthan. Her hair has turned white due to illness and heavy medicines, and her face is weary in the fading daylight. Yet, she tells her story with immense dignity, so distinctive among the strong, hardworking women of Punjab. And it doesn’t matter if it is her cancer she is talking about.
Karamjeet is one of the five battling cancer in her village. The Jhoke Sarkari village, in Faridkot district, has 10 cancer patients. There have been 15 cancer-related deaths in the last five years here. Even children, as young as ten- year-old, are suffering from joint pains, arthritis and greying of hair. Their suffering is starkly visible.
It’s the same story in several villages of Punjab—Jhariwala, Koharwala, Puckka, Bhimawali, Khara. Recently, a 12-year-old boy died of cancer in Khara village and a 25-year-old woman has been detected with breast cancer. Similar cases of cancer deaths (apart from farmers’ suicides) have become the norm in the whole of Malwa region of Punjab, comprising the districts of Muktsar, Faridkot, Moga, Sangroor and Bathinda. Although the government has claimed 172 cancer deaths in Muktsar district in the last two years, Manpreet Badal, the Shiromani Akali Dal MLA from Giddarbaha, contested the claim. He has a list of 300 cancer deaths from Giddarbaha constituency alone. “In the 50 villages falling in my constituency I have attended close to 300 funerals of people dying due to cancer in the last three months,” says Manpreet.
“Punjab is in the grip of a terrible environmental and health crisis emanating from the intensive farming practices involving large doses of chemicals and pesticides in use for the past four decades,” says Devinder Sharma, agriculture policy analyst. The green revolution has not really been so green. The environment has been intensely contaminated by the rampant use and abuse of chemicals and pesticides. The underground water is clinically unfit for drinking or for irrigation.
A comprehensive study conducted in the area by the prestigious Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, brings out unequivocal evidence that the use of indiscriminate, indiscreet, excessive and unsafe pesticides is directly responsible for the rapid and significant rise in the number of pesticide-related cases of cancers and cancer deaths. Studies by the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) have established that Punjab is facing a serious second-generation environmental crisis.
Malwa region, in the southwest of Punjab, is a cotton belt that is now growing the controversial, genetically modified Bt cotton only. Gurmail Singh, a cotton farmer of Jaitu village, says that about 14 years ago the cotton in the region was attacked by the American ball worm— a deadly pest. “I used about ten pesticide sprays over three acres of land and still could not kill the pest,” he recalls. There are many farmers who used more than 20 sprays of pesticides to kill the pest, but were still unsuccessful.
Unaware of the harmful effects of the mindless use of pesticides pushed by the nexus of unscrupulous agencies and private companies, the people of the region are paying a terrible price for their folly. Often wrongly advised by influential agricultural lobbies and profit sharks, the greed of high yield overruled prevailing health concerns. Indeed, Punjab has 2.5 per cent of the total agricultural land in the country, but is using the highest amount—more than 18 per cent of pesticides in the country. All this has contributed to widespread social devastation in individual and community life.
Predictably, Dr Harinder Singh, Agriculture Development Officer, Muktsar, categorically blames the farmers for not adhering to the precautions related to the use of pesticides. He says that a pesticide called Monocrotophose is banned from being used on vegetables and fruits, but the farmers don’t follow the warning. “The precautions are not binding as an official order since there are no such laws. Hence no legal action can be taken,” says Singh.
Umendra Dutt, executive director of Kheti Virasat Mission, an NGO in Faridkot, argues that the entire tragedy is a result of a conspiracy hatched between the scientists of the influential Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) and pesticide companies, which convinced the innocent farmers with a false promise: more pesticides, more yield. “The PAU continues to push pesticides, knowing too well that these were not required in the first place. In the case of cotton, scientists have compounded the problem by turning the ‘insect profile’ hostile, who, instead of being eliminated are breeding heavily. There were six or seven kinds of pests that worried the farmers in the 1960s; today, the number of cotton pests has multiplied to over 60,” says Dutt.
Almost 40 years after the green revolution, the International Rice Research Institute, at Manila, in the Philippines, now publicly accepts its mistake in promoting pesticides. It is on record that “pesticides were a waste of time and efforts” in Asia for the cultivation of rice. Farmers in Bangladesh, Vietnam and the Philippines have successfully opted for pesticide-free cultivation. But the irony of Punjab is that the agriculture establishments are not open to this bitter realism about pesticides. They are still gloating in the green-revolution mindset, insulated from alternative paradigms for sustainable agriculture, environment and development.
After Sunita Narain, Director, Centre for Science and Environment, raised the issue of pesticide content in the blood of the people of Punjab last year, the Punjab government constituted two committees — one high-profile committee, headed by Chief Minister Amrinder Singh, and another expert group headed by Dr K.K. Talwar, Director, PGIMER, Chandigarh. The expert group met at least once but the high-powered committee failed to meet even once in the last ten months. Meetings were fixed not less then five times but were postponed for one reason or another.
While the Punjab government is busy clearing multi-crore SEZs, it has not been able to provide its people a proper cancer treatment facility in the Bathinda region. Poor cancer patients are forced to go to distant Bikaner, in Rajasthan, for their treatment. According to the National Cancer Registry Programme, out of 424 cancer patients from Bathinda district, 328 were being treated at Bikaner. So much so, the train plying between Muktsar and Bikaner has been rechristened as the ‘cancer train’ by the locals.
While NGO’s such as Kheti Virasat Mission, are doing their best to educate the farmers about health and environment issues, even to the extent of asking them to pledge that they will do only organic farming, the state government’s role is starkly insensitive and lackadaisical. The Punjab government paid a meagre relief amount to some cancer patients. But can half-hearted doles of monetary help stop the epidemic?
How will the government stop the ecological degeneration and health crisis, and save the people from cancer and other
diseases directly related to top-heavy policies and the vested interests of pesticide lobbies?
The wake-up call has been buzzing non-stop and for a long time. But no one’s listening, certainly not the powerful green-revolution lobby. While the people die, or survive, waiting for death, in abject pain