Pesticides are widely used in agriculture without paying much heed to the consequences of its unregulated and indiscriminate use . This fact has been known to our policy makers for nearly five decades. The government is atleast under law supposed to regulate its use. The Insecticides Act of 1968 is a key piece of legislation that is supposed to govern the use, manufacture, distribution, sale and transport of insecticides with a view to lowering risks to human and animal health. In practice this is rarely the case as the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) discovered nearly a decade ago.
Following public requests CSE investigated endosulfan residues in the environment and human blood in Padre village in Kasargode district of Kerala and found very high levels of contamination. This eye opening study led to an indepth investigation into how the Central Insecticides Board, a central government agency functions. CSE discovered to its astonishment that rules are bent right from the stage of registration of new molecules. Registering a new molecule requires the generation of studies — environment dependent data conducted under Indian agro-climatic conditions and environment independent data. To generate data, a company has the option of either going to a government lab or a government-approved private commercial labs. Companies typically prefer the later as they can generate desired results.
Endosulfan story is a classic case of the rot that has set into the pesticide regulatory system. But the story does not end their. A recent investigation by CSE into the contamination caused by Union Carbide factory at Bhopal tells a similar story of bad inventory and waste management. Wide scale contamination of ground water and soil samples was seen in and outside the factory premises.
The story of pesticide regulation can be stretched further to include India's lethargic approach to categorising certain chemicals like endosulfan as Persistent Organic Pollutants which are either restricted or banned. CSE has been engaging the government to strengthen regulatory controls.