As the fifth Conference of Parties (COP) of Stockholm Convention gear up to meet at Geneva in the last week of April and decide the fate of endosulfan, the Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is busy rooting for the pesticide.
First he misled the parliament by saying that there were many states which did not want him to ban endosulfan and then he expressed his inability to ban endosulfan in a meeting with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) officials on April 19, in the capital. Pawar claims that banning isn't a viable option as there are no studies to prove the harmful effects of the pesticide and that there are no scientific basis for the actions recommended by the Stockholm Convention or for the ban already imposed by nations.
The NHRC, said in its statement, that they are at a loss to understand the logic of this stand. The countries that have banned endosulfan are those that have access to the most advanced scientific research, they include the USA, the EU, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand, which have taken their decision on the basis of scientific data and studies.
The NHRC had categorically asked Government of India to join the international consensus at COP-5 and permit the listing of endosulfan as an Annex A chemical. The Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee (POPRC), a subsidiary to UN's Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants has reached its conclusions regarding environmental health impact of Endosulfan. The POPRC comprises of 31 members and they are all highly placed scientists representing their regions around the globe. It appears that the stance of India’s Chemicals, Agriculture and Health
Ministry headed by cabinet ministers have been quite regressive especially with regard to Endosulfan because they are working under the influence of Indian Chemical Council, an industry body. These ministries have consistently prevailed on our structurally weak environment ministry whose head is a mere a minister of state with independent charge who has been kept out of Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.
But Jairam Ramesh too is singing Pawar's tune. His contention is that there is only one state and one district that is affected. He needs to know more people and places that are affected due to endosulfan. Clearly its only Kasaragod; Dakshin Kanada is off the radar.
Pawar's ICMR Study
Pawar has been singing the 'study by ICMR' (Indian Council for Medical Research) tune ever since the demand for a ban of the pesticide grew louder in December last year but not much has happened since except a few reassurances.
VM Katoch, director general, ICMR says they are waiting for the results from a study in Kerala. And once that happens, they will look at other states. But the plan for a nation wide study is yet to be drawn and its going to take a few more months. All that is known now is that studies will be conducted in five states- Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Karnataka- the major endosulfan users. The ICMR has also now included in its mandate to review the 2002 NIOH (National Institute of Occupational Health) study which has been at the receiving end of the pesticide lobby.
It was expected that the ICMR study would be complete before the Indian delegation left for Geneva to attend the COP but it hasn't happened. Now there are speculations that India will go to the COP with an excuse that they have initiated a study and so cannot take a call on banning the pesticide.
However, the study that ICMR is waiting for is being done by the Calicut Medical college. Though the study hasn't yet been made public, sources reveal that the initial studies revealed high incidence of abortion, infertility, intra-uterine death, kidney, liver and neurobehavioural disorder. Among school students, apart from history of deaths among siblings, there were high rates of current morbidity, congenital heart disease, cerebral palsy and skeletal abnormalities. High levels of estrogen were found in schoolgirls. In the long run, estrogen is responsible for cervical cancer, breast cancer and endometriosis. High endosulfan residues have also been found in the blood samples in victims in Muliyar panchayat in Kerala's Kasaragod district.
Pawar's Endosulfan Games
On February 22, in the Lok Sabha, Pawar said that there were many states which did not want him to ban endosulfan. But it turns out that no state has written to him requesting not to ban the organochlorine pesticide. At present the pesticide is banned only in two states, Kerala and Karnataka.
In a response under the Right to Information Act, the ministry declared that only six letters were received requesting not to ban the pesticide and none of them were requests from state governments.
Of the six letters, four were from Gujarat. Two of the letters were from farmers, one letter was from the Saurashtra Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the fourth from a non profit Shri Sudarshan Vishav Krishi Kendra Trust. Gujarat has vested interests in protesting against a ban as two of the three big endosulfan manufacturing companies, Excel Crop Care Limited and Coromandel International Limited are based out of Gujarat.
The fifth letter is from the Consortium of Indian Farmers Association (CIFA). CIFA's secretary general is P Chengal Reddy, has worked closely with Monsanto in the mid 1990's,is known to back the high input model for agriculture and is a pro-industry man.
The last letter is from Jyotsana P Kapadia. She has been portrayed by the pesticide lobby as the 'scientist who revealed the NIOH (National Institute of Occupational Health) fraud'. But there is a clear conflict of interest here as Kapadia is DGM, Intellectual Property Rights, Excel Crop Care Limited, one of the leading producers of endosulfan in the country.
In March, Gujarat also released a study done by the state health and family welfare department, that concludes that there are no health impacts associated to exposure to endosulfan. The study was triggered by a rally that was taken out by women and children in Bhavnagar, last year, protesting the NIOH report and demanding not to ban endosulfan in the country.
The Gujarat report basically does two things. It gives a clean chit to endosulfan by citing methodological errors in the NIOH study and secondly relies on a study by an institute that has known to have committed a fraud in the past.
The Gujarat study rips apart the methodology of NIOH study, which was one of its mandate. The study has completely ignored scientific evidence and literature that show the clear cause and effect relation between endosulfan and the diseases.
It's primary investigation is based on a study done by the Samvardhan Trust, a non profit based in Bhavnagar who had evaluated endosulfan residues in blood samples collected from farmers in two villages in Rajkot. This was an independent study and the trust had commissioned International Institute of Biotechnology and Toxicology (IIBAT) based in Tamil Nadu for the study. It is worth noting that IIBAT was formerly known as Fredrick Institute of Plant Protection and Technology (FIPPAT), which was commissioned by Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK) in 2001 for a study in Kasaragod and they found no residues of endosulfan in any of the blood samples, cow's milk and water samples. But an investigation by Down to Earth in 2004 revealed that FIPPAT had actually detected endosulfan residues in human blood samples but had not disclosed this in its final report.
The report seems to be ghost written by the Pesticide Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India (PMFAI) or the Indian Chemical Council, since it makes all the standard arguments, and even uses language that's identical to endosulfan industry releases like endosulfan is "soft" on pollinators, "vested interests" are behind the call to ban endosulfan and banning endosulfan is EU-plot to increase sales of patented insecticides. Some parts are taken verbatim from the remarks of the PMFAI president in press conferences across the country.
4273 victims identified in Kasaragod*
38% suffer from neurobehavioural and cognitive disorders*
15% suffer from endocrine and reproductive disorders*
About 26% suffer from respiratory illness and skin problems*
About 17% suffer from multiple congenital disorders*
8% suffer from cancer*
Some patients suffer from multiple health conditions*
RTI in Dakshin Kanada reveals aerial spray was done in 96 villages; a preliminary count suggests 6000 victims in these villages ]
*Source: Sneha Santhwanam, state rehabilitation programme for Endosulfan victims
Ahead of the COP in Kerala
Awareness march on endosulfan by the medical students in Kerala, to culminate at Kasaragod on April 25
Kerala proposes to observe April 25 as Endosulfan Day
Kerala chief minister to send an all party delegation to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA president Sonia Gandhi
Environmental health groups urge Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) to ban endosulfan