India made a tactical shift on endosulfan at the Stockholm Convention. India agreed to the listing of the technical endosulfan and its related isomers in Annex A of the UN's Stockholm Convention, without any opposition. Listing of a chemical in Annex A means that Endosulfan should be banned globally.
The sixth Pesticide Organic Pollutant Review Committee (POPRC), the subsidiary body of the Stockholm Convention, held last year, recommended the listing of endosulfan in Annex A. The final decision was taken on April 29 at the fifth Conference of Parties (COP-5) meeting of the Convention. COP-5 was held in Geneva between April 25-29.
Endosulfan, an organochlorine pesticide, known to be a endocrine disruptor and neurotoxin has had severe health impacts in Kasaragod and Dakshin Kanada, where the pesticide was sprayed aerially for over 20 years in the cashew plantations and now it has been banned. Eighty-one countries have already banned endosulfan.
India's consensus on the ban is a welcome move as India had become almost notorious for opposing a ban on endosulfan in the international arena ever since it was introduced as a persistent organic pollutant (POP) in COP-4 of the Stockholm Convention in 2008.
'A Post-dated cheque'
In case of India, the inclusion of the pesticide in Annex A, comes with a rider. “India along with China and Uganda, has agreed to the ban but with exemptions, so celebrations are premature at this stage. This is like a post dated cheque,” said Gopal Krishna, convener of advocacy group, Toxics Watch Alliance.
India has asked for exemptions for endosulfan to be used for pests on 16 crops like cotton, tea, jute, onion, potatoes, okra, eggplant, gram, arhar, maize, chilies, groundnut, mustard, rice, wheat and mango. A closer look shows that these are the same pest-crop complex for which the Central Insecticides Board (CIB) has allowed endosulfan to be used for.
“Exemptions allowed to India, China and Uganda is worrisome. In India the conditional exemption is ineffective as there are many crops on which pesticides are used despite not being registered or approved for,” said GV Ramanjaneyulu, executive director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad. Kerala is an example of how the conditional ban does not work, where endosulfan is being brought in from neighboring states without any restrictions.
India's exemption also means that India does not ban the pesticide within a year, as in the case of others who haven't opted for an exemption. India's exemptions are valid for five years, this can be extended for another five years if alternatives are not found. Under Annex A listing, the ban takes a year to become effective, so on paper India can extend the phasing out process for 11 years.
“Apart from the fact that both human and environmental health will continue to be affected as long as the phase out takes place, there is no clarity as to who would suggest the alternatives to endosulfan and whether India is even looking for an organic, non-chemical alternative. If a banned pesticide has to be replaced with another pesticide it is of no use,” said B Ekbal, national convener, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.
But there is an optimistic view as well. “India is under pressure to comply and phase out within 5 years because after the first five years, the extension to the next five years is not automatic. India will have to go back to the COP plenary of the Stockholm Convention and explain why it wasn’t able to find alternatives. That is going to be extremely shameful for India especially since it has very successful examples of alternative farming in Andhra Pradesh and parts of Kerala. Moreover, 81 countries that have banned are using alternatives so there is no dearth of information,” explained R Sridhar of Thanal, a non-profit in Kerala. He added that China was likely to phase out within five years and the European Union would pull Uganda out.
However at present with no ban in the immediate future, there is no relief from the use of endosulfan within the country. India is the largest producer and consumer of endosulfan. Figures from the agriculture ministry show that in 2009-10, 3333 mt of endosulfan was consumed in the country.
For India, which subscribes to the opt out plan of the convention, the phase out will begin after the Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs ratifies the decision taken at the Stockholm Convention and notifies the UN body. The financial support to find alternatives for the exemptions for the phase out will then follow.
Though Jairam Ramesh, the minister for environment and forests (MoEF) guided India through the tactical shift at the convention and could speed up the process of a phase out , he is not a part of the CCEA. While Sharad Pawar, the minister for Agriculture and a supporter of the pesticide lobby is part of the cabinet committee could delay both the ratification process and the phasing out.
“India's previous record in honoring the Stockholm Convention has been poor. The National Implementation Plan (NIP), that should have been submitted in 2008 to the UN body is still in the drafting stage at the MoEF,” pointed out Krishna. The national implementation plan was to demonstrate how the obligations under the convention will be implemented. Endosulfan will become a part of it whenever the NIP is finalized.
While Indian government plans towards phasing out to comply with the international convention, pressure from the states and the Supreme Court can speed up the banning process. The agriculture minister, on April 27, wrote to states, except Kerala, Karnataka and Gujarat, to seek their views on endosulfan. The Madhya Pradesh government was the first to respond, on April 28, registering its support to Kerala to ban the pesticide. Kerala chief minister VS Achuthanandan too has written to chief ministers to support a ban on the pesticide. Leader or opposition and BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, too has pitched in in support of a ban on endosulfan.
Meanwhile the Supreme Court admitted a petition filed by the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) seeking a ban on the production, sale and use of pesticide on April 26. During the first hearing on May 2, the bench of Chief Justice SH Kapadia, Justice KS Radhakrishnan, and Justice Swatanter Kumar asked the Centre as to why there should not be a ban on the sale and use of the pesticide against which there has been proven records of consequences on human health. The Bench also directed the Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium to be present on May 11, the next hearing, with the centre’s response.