Pesticide manufacturers are leaving no stone unturned to get a clean chit for endosulfan. The Supreme Court had banned the sale, manufacture, use and export of the pesticide on May 13 this year. The pesticide makers have submitted a counter affidavit in the Supreme Court.
In it, they have reiterated their stand that though it is alleged that there are health impacts of endosulfan in Kasaragod and Dakshin Kanada, there is no causative link established between the pesticide and the health problems.
The case is being heard by the bench comprising chief justice S H Kapadia, Swatantar Kumar and K S P Radhakrishnan. Through the many hearings since May 13, the judges seem inclined to continue ban on endosulfan. They have called for the suggestions from an expert committee and others on the safer alternatives to endosulfan. The next hearing is scheduled for November 10.
FAO, WHO clean chit?
The affidavit states that endosulfan has been wrongly targeted by the petitioners, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI-Kerala wing), the youth wing of CPI (M). According to the manufacturers, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have given a clean chit to endosulfan. So has the interim report of the Supreme Court-appointed joint committee of the director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Agriculture Commissioner.
The petitioners received the affidavit soon after the October 10 hearing. Mohammed Asheel, the assistant nodal officer of Kerala's endosulfan rehabilitation project, who will be drafting a reply to the counter affidavit, has refuted most of these claims.
"These are false statements and a deliberate effort to mislead the court. The ICMR- Agriculture commissioner's combined report in the month of August had observed that there was a significant difference between the reproductive morbidity, congenital anomalies and cancer rate between the affected and controlled group during the time endosulfan was sprayed. The team observed that after the spraying was stopped this difference had come down drastically," says Asheel.
The pesticide manufacturers have always said that apart from the alleged impact of endosulfan on health in Dakshin Kanada and Kasaragod, there are no instances elsewhere in the country and this is reflected in the submissions by the Agriculture Commissioner's office as well.
What peer reviewed studies say
There are nearly 316 peer reviewed and published studies that show that endosulfan has severe health impacts and the synopsis of these studies have been submitted to the court by the petitioners.
"Some of these have even been conducted by ICMR and the Indian Council of Agriculture Research and medical institutes in the country. These are studies which are not just animal experiments, but also health studies in other parts of the country. We have the data, which we have submitted to the court, and we are prepared for a scientific debate," says Asheel.
He also rubbished the claims that FAO and WHO have stated that endosulfan is not mutagenic (mutation-inducing), carcinogenic, teratogenic (harmful to embryo growth), genotoxic (damaging to DNA) or an endocrine disruptor. "This argument does not hold. The Persistent Organic Pollutant Review Committee (POPRC) of the Stockholm Convention had recommended that Endosulfan be included in Annex A because it was harmful and that it should be banned globally."
Moreover, the FAO at the fifth Conference of Parties (COP 5) of the Stockholm Convention in April this year, had openly refuted India's claim and had stated that endosulfan was a hazardous pesticide. "The World Health Organization (WHO), in the sidelines of the COP 5, had mentioned that they could not include it in 2006 because it was around that time that UNEP had approached the POPRC to decide on the health impacts of endosulfan and POPRC had said that endosulfan is harmful," Asheel says.
The affidavit also raises doubts on the study conducted by the Calicut Medical College. They have cited a table that shows that those with higher levels of endosulfan were found to be healthier. "These claims don't make sense as the blood endosulfan levels cannot be interpreted in isolation there has to be details on the time of exposure, dose and the frequency of exposure as well as genetic disposition, which is a big contributing factor," he adds.
The joint committee had observed that no conclusion could be drawn from the study since the comparative blood endosulfan data was not available and the sample size was very small. The Calicut Medical College study had a constraint—there was resistance from the general public while the test was being conducted.
New panel for Kerala's endosulfan victims
In the meanwhile the Kerala government has decided to make a few drastic changes in the endosulfan rehabilitation committee that hasn't been welcomed by the civil society in Kerala. The state government issued a government order constituting a 51-member committee to implement the rehabilitation package for the endosulfan victims. The agriculture minister has been appointed as the chairman of the committee. The panel will now comprise of members of Parliament from the state, MLAs, local bodies’ representatives and authorities.
This clearly keeps the civil society out of the loop that had been working both towards rehabilitation and pushing the agenda of banning the pesticide in the country. The Government Order hasn't been implemented yet but it is only a matter of time that doctors like Mohammed Asheel and non-profits like Thanal would be pushed to the sidelines.