The Union environment ministry has proposed a five member expert committee to study the ill-effects of endosulfan. Union minister of state for environment, Jairam Ramesh, announced the panel after meeting Kerala forest minister Benoy Viswam on November 1.
Kerala had pressed the Centre to endorse a global ban on the pesticide before the sixth meeting of the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC) in Geneva in October (See 'India still in endolsulfan denial', Down To Earth, November 15). Viswam and the Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan had written to the MoEF before the meeting, but India did not support the ban. Despite India's opposition, POPRC recommended a ban to the Conference of Parties of the Stockholm Convention that will meet in April next. The convention is a global treaty to protect public health and environment from persistent organic pollutants.
Kerala is the only state to ban the pesticide,in 2003, after families living near cashew plantations in Kasargod district fell victims to over 25 years of endosulfan exposure. R Sridhar of Thanal, a non-profit in Thiruvananthapuram, said there have been committees in the past that have provided sufficient evidence of the ill-effects of endosulfan and this committee should not be made an excuse to delay a national ban on endosulfan. “The minister should pay a visit to the victims instead of sending yet another committee,” he said. Sources in the ministry said the committee will submit its report in four months.
Kerala has formed two committees on endosulfan: one committee formed by the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment will study the health impacts of endosulfan in Kasaragod district and the other committee comprising members from civil society organisations, agriculture universities and health department will study the impact of pesticides in the state.
The second committee, formed in the backdrop of the state organic farming policy, will draw a phase-out plan for pesticides from the state within the next 5-10 years.
Kerala also hit headlines for unwarranted comments made by the Union minister of state for agriculture K V Thomas, who in October said there was no evidence to prove that endosulfan caused health hazards. Thomas received a lot of flak not just from the state leadership but also from his own party members. The MoEF announcement could well be seen as an olive branch extended towards the victims and the state.