Needs For New Pesticides Management Law before It’s Too Late to Repent

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New Delhi: “Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter,” goes an old African proverb, which is also apt to describe the state of the world’s farmers. Farmers are like the hunted lions that need their side of the story told and their sacrifices, agony, courage and fears to be brought to light. 

Between July and October last year, more than 40 farmers died, leaving more than 1000’s suffering in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region in what were feared to be cases of pesticide poisoning — the pestilence was at its worst in Yavatmal district.

How did it happen?

The farmers in Yavatmal mostly grow the genetically modified ‘BT cotton,’ considered pest-resistant. But the cotton plants this year grew unusually tall this year, up to 6 feet, and attracted pests. While spraying pesticides above their head, farm workers inhaled some pesticide particles.

Some farmers said the lack of rain this year may have contributed to the growth of the cotton plant as it received more fertilizer. The unusually humid conditions and the high density of cotton crop also made farmers vulnerable to chemical contact while spraying pesticides.

How did the government react?

The DevendraFadnavis government swung into action only after the media began reporting the deaths and Opposition parties started raising the issue. The government constituted a seven-member Special Investigation Team to inquire into the deaths and announced.

The district administration has booked five Krishi Kendra owners for “selling unauthorised pesticides” and sent agriculture officers to create awareness of precautions. But experts believe the action came late. 

Special Investigation Team Report:

When the report by SIT came it was not shocking at all.

The report has blamed the administrative machinery as well as the victims for failing to follow safety protocols while handling such toxic substances. It didn’t really touch the firms at all.

To prevent such incidents from happening again, the panel recommended measures, including a ban on monocrotophos — a widely used insecticide — and unregistered plant growth regulators, besides dedicated quality control staff to check pesticide quality, intensive care units in district and rural hospitals, and stringent IPC sections against farm owners and labourers not adhering to stipulations.

But sadly the precautionary measure suggested looks a far dream. The distance between the farmers and the centres that are responsible for taking scientific knowledge to the farms for better yield and productivity are dire strait.

Moreover, two of the pesticides blamed for these deaths—monocrotophos and oxydemetonmethyl — are classified as Class I pesticides by the World Health Organization because of their acute toxicity.

They are banned in several countries, including the EU. However, they are widely used in India.

Every year, there are about 10,000 reported cases of pesticide poisoning in India. And as per a report the amount of usage of Class I pesticides account to 30 % of India’s total consumption of insecticides (pesticides) by weight in 2015-16.

Laws and Regulation for Pesticides Regulation in India:

Still awaiting Parliamentary approval is the Pesticide Management Bill of 2008, proposed as a step towards promoting safe use of pesticides, this Bill seeks to regulate the manufacture, inspection, testing and distribution of pesticides. It establishes a system of licensing as well as the setting up of a registration committee to register pesticides.

The Bill was meant to replace the Insecticides Act, 1968, which still not has passed.

Right now the agriculture ministry regulates the manufacture, sale, transport, distribution, export, import and use of pesticides under the 1968 law. Besides, broadly speaking, the Central Insecticides Board advises the central and state governments on technical matters. Regulations are implemented largely by state governments.

Approval for the use of pesticides and new formulations on crops is given by the Registration Committee of the Central Insecticide Board. The health and family welfare ministry monitors and regulates pesticide levels in food, and sets limits for residues in food commodities.

Some regulators say there are good structures in place for pesticide regulation, and add that their effectiveness varies from state to state because much of the enforcement is left to state governments. Many manufacturers differ, saying that current structures breed corruption and encourage the 'inspector raj'.
Many activists and not-for-profit organisations say there is a lack of effective structures in place.

Pesticide Sample Test Rarely Fails:

Most pesticide samples simply don’t fail the test. This is not only because conniving officers don’t follow procedures. But for a “sample failure” to be legally valid, samples have to fail consecutively.

The cumbersome documentation procedure allows the second sample to expire before it’s tested, rendering the process invalid.

Thus, the crime cannot be established. Less than 40 pesticide-related convictions have been possible in Punjab in 10 years. Mandatory e-documentation (as per the IT Act, 2000) for agriculture departments will expedite the process and increase transparency.

On the other side there are just 46 quality control laboratories for pesticides, which can analyse some 60,000 samples a year. This means each laboratory cannot analyse more than 15 samples a day.India's national scheme for monitoring pesticide residues has seen its budget drop from Rs 11.7 crore in 2007/08 to Rs 4.5 crore in 2011/12.

It’s high time that India gets a new pesticides management law to address issues related to the unsafe use of pesticides. It must also ensure strong enforcement to address farmers on how to avoid acute toxicity and prevent chronic toxicity due to pesticide residues in food items.

 

References:

http://www.businesstoday.in

http://indianexpress.com

https://www.hindustantimes.com

http://www.thehindu.com

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