New Delhi’s shameless stand at the Stockholm Convention angers enraged victims who seek court help. The Anti-Endosulfan Committee in Kerala’s Kasargod district is all set to take on the Indian government over its stand at the Stockholm Convention and Rotterdam Convention, which seek to regulate the use of hazardous chemicals and pesticides. The committee is planning national-level agitations in addition to moving the Supreme Court in protest against what they call is an ‘affront’ to hundreds of victims who are languishing as a result of 20 years of aerial spraying of endosulfan on cashew nut plantations in Kasargod.
The spraying caused unusually high incidence of central nervous system disorders like cerebral palsy, congenital neurological disorders, cancers, body deformations, reproductive disorders and miscarriages in seven villages in Kasargod district.
Years of protests and sufferings of the people in Kasargod hogged international attention about this deadly pesticide and prompted the state government to ban endosulfan in Kerala in 2002. But it is another matter that even after the ban, it continues to be smuggled from neighbouring state Tamil Nadu to be used in Palakkad and Idukki districts.
Now the Anti-Endosulfan Committee has been taken aback by India’s efforts to prevent inclusion of endosulfan to the Rotterdam Convention despite the gripping example of Kasargod.
“Even an MNC like Bayer has decided to stop producing endosulfan by 2010; but the Indian government continues to manufacture this, in utter disregard for the victims of this pesticide. Worse, the government tried to block the international conventions in Rome that sought to ban endosulfan. It was also highly unbecoming of the Indian delegate, Dr Pandey, at the Rotterdam Convention to declare that no one has suffered from endosulfan in India,” said B C Kumaran, a committee member.
It should be noted here that Bayer’s decision follows an innovative action in 16 countries, led by a coalition of partners including Pesticide Action Network and Fairtrade Alliance Kerala.
“Our effort will be to senstise New Delhi into seeing the ground realities. We are planning agitations at the national level seeking more compensations and humanly treatment of the victims,” said M A Rahman, an anti-endosulfan activist who has taken a film on the adverse effects of this pesticide.
In March this year, India tried to block progress at the Stockholm Convention’s POPS Review Committee with a very shameful exhibition that caused the Chair of the POPS Review Committee to threaten to report the delegate to the Indian government. However a vote was taken and India’s efforts were in vain.
According to Dr Meriel Watts, co-ordinator, Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa New Zealand, voting is permitted at the Committee stages but not at the ‘Conference of the Parties’ stage where consensus must be achieved. So endosulfan is still going through the Stockholm Convention assessment process, now at stage two, with the next meeting of the POPS Review Committee scheduled for October this year in Geneva.
Watts told Earthwitness that the international community is continuing to work with the Conventions using good science and trying to persuade India to see reason to halt the production of this pesticide in the larger interest of humanity, the environment and other nations who get affected by India’s use, and the integrity of international conventions.
“We can only hope that by then the Indian government will have come to realise the enormous embarrassment to it, that is being caused by its delegate, and by its conflict of Interest: the Indian government owns Hindustan Industries, one of the manufacturers of endosulfan. This type of conflict of interest is unheard of in international conventions, and India’s behaviour is threatening to wreck both the conventions,” said Watts.
In 2008 too, India blocked the Rotterdam Convention ‘Conference of the Parties’, but endosulfan has been nominated again by nine West African countries, victims of this poisonous pesticide.
“India is again trying to block this at the committee stages, but I think other delegates are not prepared to let India wreck it again,” said Watts.
The deadly pesticide
Endosulfan belongs to the group of highly toxic chemicals called persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and has already been banned in 55 countries including in Sri Lanka. Various agencies have documented its deadly effects. In 2008 November, 43 students of a state-run school in Jharkhand were hospitalised after drinking milk that had Endosulfan residues. Five of them died.
Male school children exposed to the pesticide endosulfan showed delayed sexual maturity, according to a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP).
India is by far the largest manufacturer of endosulfan, with the state-owned Hindustan Insecticides Ltd (HIL) and two private companies producting the pesticide. China manufactures small amounts, and Israel also manufacturers an unknown amount. In fact an Israeli company, Makhteshim Agan, has just started manufacturing pesticides in Andra Pradesh; it is not yet known whether they produce endosulfan or not.
Though China supported India at the last POPs Review Committee meeting, its support may not last as the communist country has a better record of banning highly toxic pesticides. The US is not a signatory to either Convention and Endosulfan’s use is restricted in there.
Aren’t there any other alternatives for endosulfan or is the love for this pesticide driven by profits? The fact is that there are plenty of effective alternatives, it is simply that the companies are making very nice profits and they care more about that than anything else.
By: B F Firos, Earth Witness