Endosulfan: A year of the ban

The industry continues its dirty tricks

The Endosulfan ban will complete a year on May 13.

In 2011, the Supreme Court had passed an interim order banning the sale, production, use and export of endosulfan.

Despite the Supreme Court ban there has been a constant tug of war between the pesticides manufacturers and the petitioners, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (Kerala wing) and an attempt by the former to revoke the ban.  

It all started in Kerala and the drama is still unfolding there. While the former chief minister VS Achuthanandan sat on a day long fast, in April last year, demanding for a nationwide ban on endosulfan, the present UDF government seems to be succumbing to the pressure of the endosulfan manufacturers.

S Ganesan of Excel Crop Care sent a legal notice to the Government Medical College, Calicut on July 20, 2011 alleging that the findings of the research report “Epidemiological Studies Related to Health in Endosulfan affected areas at Kasaragod district, Kerala 2010-2011” was ‘scientifically erroneous’ and ‘fundamentally flawed’. He had demanded that the college withdraw the study on or before July 28, 2011. Further notices were sent in January and February this year but the study wasn’t withdrawn.

The Calicut study was done as a part of the periodic monitoring of endosulfan affected areas in Kasaragod. The report concluded that all blood samples contained alpha endosulfan while 59 per cent of the samples contained endosulfan sulphate.The Supreme Court appointed joint committee comprising the director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Agriculture Commissioner upheld the findings of the Calicut study.

But it has now come to light that the state under pressure from the endosulfan lobby has come up with a suggestion for the Calicut medical college. According to sources, the health secretary of Kerala, Rajeev Sadanandan, wrote to the medical college seeking their opinion on including suggestions given by the pesticide lobby and changes the findings of the report. The letter was sent through the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s principal secretary’s office on March 12.

The College has stood its ground and rejected the government’s proposal to make any changes in the report. They wrote back to the government on March 21. Fearing a public outrage, the government had kept these letters under wrap.

The state chief minister, Oomen Chandy is however persistent. In a media briefing after the cabinet meeting on May 2, Chandy said that he is still discussing with the Government Medical Collegeto make the study ‘fool proof’. Though he did not mention what was actually wrong with the study.

There is dissent within the party regarding the CM’s statement. VM Sudheeran, a Congress leader in Kerala said that this justification of the chief minister wasn’t good enough. Chandy’s statement is confusing because amidst all these controversies he maintains that there is no change in their endosulfan stand and that they will continue to back the ban. According to sources present at the briefing, Chandy also spoke about on-going discussions within the government to figure out a way to sue the pesticide manufacturers to cough up compensation.

This comes in the heels of a rap by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to the Kerala government for not paying the compensation as was decided by Commission. The commission had said that the state should pay at least Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of those who died or are fully bedridden or unable to move without help or are mentally challenged. The commission also recommended a compensation of Rs 3 lakh to those with other disabilities. NHRC had recommended a panel of doctors to assess the extent of physical disability to classify the categories of victims.

The recommendations were given in December 2010, after it took up the issue suomoto. The state had hoped for central assistance in compensating victims but they received none. The state government had requested for some more time to implement its recommendation, which the commission observed the state had failed to do. The commission has now issued summon for anaction taken report to be submitted by June 4, 2012 or appear before the commission on June 16, 2012.

After the ban
As the court hearing has proceeded in the last year, there have been several attempts made by the endosulfan manufacturers to revoke the ban. First they opposed the ban citing a dent in agriculture growth- the economic survey 2011-12 states that according to the second advance estimates, production of food grains during 2011-12 is estimated at an all time record level of 250.42 million tonnes, courtesy paddy and wheat. In 2010-11, food grain production touched 244.78 million tonnes. The farmers clearly haven’t fared poorly. 

Then the endosulfan manufacturers wanted permission to export the stock that had already been earmarked for exports but had been put on hold owing to the ban. On September 30, 2011,the Supreme Court allowed exports of 1090.596 metric tonne (MT) of endosulfan (technical grade) as against the export orders of 1734 MT. Further on December 30, 2011, the Supreme Court allowed further export of 2698.056 kl of endosulfan formulation that was lying as stocks with 34 units of manufacturers and formulators.

Now the pesticide manufacturers are pleading to get permission to be allowed manufacture endosulfan with the raw material,Hexachlorocyclopentadiene (HCCP), an organochlorine compound, that remains with them. The pesticide manufacturers stated that there were demands from three states- Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat for endosulfan and that they should be allowed to produce and sell. They added that since India is already a signatory to the Stockholm Convention and have agreed to phase out the pesticide, it should be allowed to be produced and phase out accordingly.

The Supreme Court on April 23, has asked the centre to come back with a disposal plan for the remaining raw material that the manufactures want to convert to endosulfan. A deadline for July 23 has been set.