Pesticide Management Bill pushed for Winter Session
The Pesticide Management Bill, 2008 was scheduled to be tabled in the parliament during the monsoon session. But the Lokpal Bill, impeachment of a judge and debate on the validity of the appointment of a Lokayukta in Gujarat, the bill scheduled to be tabled on the first day of the parliament was given a miss. The Bill has now been pushed to the winter session.
The Pesticide Management Bill, 2008 which will replace the Insecticides Act 1964, does introduce a few positive changes like special courts for speedy, disposal of spurious, misbranded, expired pesticides within three months and inclusion of the two farmers- one male and one female in the Central Insecticides Board. The bill has increased the number of members in the registration committee from 5 to 10. According to the Pesticide Management Bill, 2008 no pesticide can be registered unless the tolerance limit has been fixed under the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, which became fully operational on August 5, 2011.
But there are still many loopholes that need to be plugged. For instance pesticides already registered in the Insecticides Act 1968 are automatically deemed to be registered under the bill. Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs)of some of the pesticides have not been specified for some currently registered pesticides.
According to the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, 229 pesticides have been registered of which 49 pesticides do not have MRLs, of which they say MRLs for 39 pesticides are not required while there are 10 pesticides for which no tolerance limit is fixed. This would mean that some of the pesticides that have been registered without MRLs fixed for them will continue to be so. Moreover, MRLs should be based on Acceptable Daily Intakes (ADIs). MRLs can be considered safe only if the cumulative daily intake of pesticides remains within the ADI, which should be worked out based on chronic toxicity.
Fundamental Changes Required
Some basic rules need to be revisited. The legislative powers of the Pesticide Management Bill remains with the Ministry of Agriculture. In the last decade and more with numerous cases of pesticides affecting human and animal health and environment coming to the fore the legislative power of the act should fall in the purview of either the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Environment and Forest. The health and the environment ministry especially should have the power to take decisions on registration, review and ban of the pesticides.
Moreover, with agriculture being a state subject, the state should also have the complete power to ban, restrict or allow the use of pesticides. According to the Insecticides Act 1968, the state could only temporarily ban a pesticide for 60 days and then extend it to another 30 days pending a study. That, in the Pesticide Management Bill has been extended to 180 days and 60 days respectively. The demand for a state control was raised by the former Kerala Agriculture Minister M Retnakaran as well as the farmers wing of the opposition party BJP.
There are two schools of thought here. One that believes that a power like this to the state will create chaos, with one state agreeing to a ban and its neighbouring states not. Instance being the continued use of endosulfan in Kerala, being smuggled through state borders, despite a ban. "The states will be responsible. It seems chaotic now because states have no power to ban so they do not act," said Jayakumar C of Thanal, a non profit in Kerala. He supports the demand for state control.
A liability clause centered around the 'polluters pay principle' should have been included in the new bill. The government clearly hasn't taken lessons from incidents like Kasaragod and Dakshin Kanada, where people were suffering due to the continuous spray of the endosulfan for over 20 years and are putting up a fight on a daily basis to get compensation either from the state or the centre. The bill should make the manufacturers liable and the liability should be proportional to the turnover of the pesticide manufacturers. An independent committee should be formed to decide on the quantum of liability.
The bill calls for review of pesticides but there are no time frames set for the same. The pesticides should be reviewed within five years or earlier. The funds for this periodic review should be drawn from a corpus of funds collected from the pesticide industry. The industry should contribute, a percentage of their annual turnover or a fee should be levied on their turnover or the value of the products sold, to the corpus.
What else needs to be fixed
The definition of 'sale' should also include free distribution of insecticides and pesticides by the central government, state government or any such agency.
The clause that provides for speedy registration of pesticides in case of national emergency, urgency or public interest should be removed.
In order to keep a tab on the Central Pesticides Board with Indian Council of Agricultural Research and Director General of Health Services and civil society representatives should collect state-wise data on use of insecticides to control pests and diseases of major crops including fruits and vegetables
The review should be done by an independent committee appointed by the central government which should review its toxicity, health impact and ecological impact.
The independent committee should have members from Ministry of Health and Family Welfare represented by the Indian Council of Medical Research and Ministry of Environment and Forest, civil society and the state pesticides board.
The registration committee on the lines of the Central Pesticides Board should have representation from the different agro-climatic zones or different states.
The Registration Committee should have the power to ban the pesticides. A power that has been taken away by the present bill.
There should be complete disclosure of data and transparency of disclosure of bio safety data. All reports related to public health and ecological data should be kept in the public domain to ensure transparency.
Compensation has been provided but under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. Instead a provision should be made under the Pesticide Management Bill to provide compensation to farmers or affected persons. Government should also intervene to ensure that the compensation is delivered hassle free to farmers and affected parties.