Countdown to the Supreme Court Hearing

The eight weeks deadline for the Supreme Court appointed joint committee on endosulfan ended on July 13. The hearing of the case is scheduled for July 15.

The apex court had on May 13 ordered an interim ban on the use, manufacture and sale of the pesticide across the country, till further orders.

The three judge bench appointed a joint committee headed by the Director general ICMR and the Agriculture Commissioner to study the harmful effects of the pesticide. It is on the basis of this joint committee report that the supreme court will decide whether to lift the ban or to impose a permanent ban on the pesticide.

In the past 8 weeks, there have been mixed indications coming from the joint committee. They have met a couple of times. Individually they have visited Kasaragod (icmr) and held a meeting of state agriculture officers (agriculture commissioner). The reference point for ICMR was the study done by the Department of Community Medicine Calicut Medical College. Though the Director General ICMR, VM Katoch has been tight lipped about the visit, sources reveal that the ICMR though impressed with the study done by the college, despite the constraints under which the study was done. ICMR, after their visit in May, had asked for some more details, which the department had offered to furnish. The ICMR has most likely prepared their part of the interim report with a re analysis of data. 

The agriculture commissioner's office on the other hand turned out to be a shocker, 20 out of 21 states called in favor of the pesticide. They reasoned that they had not come across any adverse impacts of endosulfan in their state. Even Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh spoke in favor of the pesticide. This input from the agriculture commissioner's office into the joint committee report could play the spoiler.

Though the members of the joint committee are tight lipped about the interim report, the approach of the ICMR seems positive. One member on the condition of anonymity said that if 'ICMR doesn't talk about health who else will'. What the joint committee recommends will be known only after July 15, in the meantime the Pesticides Manufacturers & Formulators Association of India (PMFAI) have filed an affidavit in reply in the court.

Apart from other things the association has raised questions on the credibility of the petitioner, TV Rajesh of CPI (M) who filed the petition of behalf of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), calling it politically motivated. They have also raised questions on the NIOH report in the affidavit, stating that it 'suffered from serious design flaws, selective and inadequate presentation of data and selective suppression of facts'. They have raised questions on the Calicut Medical College report as well. A source revealed that the ICMR would stand in favour of the NIOH report as it would not backtrack on its own study. While the NIOH study has been in focus for a long time courtesy the endosulfan lobby, no questions have been raised on the CD Mayee and OP Dubey report. The chairman of the Indian Chemical Council had written to the ministry of health demanding the withdrawal of the NIOH report in December last year, after which they got a hearing scheduled with the ICMR.   

The association, has cited iodine deficiency, genetic inbreeding and radiation as possible sources of the health problems for the people of Kasaragod instead of endosulfan. It is however interesting that the ICMR, while analyzing the Calicut study had ruled out congenital anomalies in the affected area. The investigators of the Calicut Medical College cleared that in both the study area and control area, consanguinity was not common. Mohammed Asheel, assistant nodal officer of the Kerala endosulfan rehabilitation project said that both the explanation of iodine deficiency and radiation were irresponsible statements by the association and it was unscientific and ridiculous to blame the health conditions of the people there on either iodine deficiency or radiation.