It was another ordeal for endosulfan victims

endosulfan stir

Endosulfan victims and their mothers on hunger strike before the Secretariat

The hunger strike by endosulfan victims and mothers before Kerala Secretariat ended last week after the Government conceded most of their demands.

However, the demands conceded were the ones that the government had conceded as back as in January 2014 following their dharna before the Chief Minister’s residence. Implementation was lagging and the victims had to launch another stir to get yet another assurance that they would be implemented.

The only concrete gain from the agitation was a specific decision to include about 600 more persons from Kasaragod district under the government’s list for providing compensation. Whether other promises would be kept within the term of the present government is to be seen.

In fact, the approach of successive government to the endosulfan problem had been far from satisfactory. It is more than five years since the National Human Rights Commission recommended compensation and other measures. Still the compensation has not reached all.

Though it was a problem that should have been addressed on a war footing, governments often chose to ignore the problem. It was convenient for them to do so, because the State-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala was responsible for aerial spraying of endosulfan. None of the officials who were responsible for using such dangerous methods of application of pesticides in a populated area, and that too in excess quantities and over water bodies, were never held accountable.

As to rehabilitative and remediative measures, the government could not even do what the voluntary agencies could. It is notable that even the BUDS schools set up by the government did not have facilities for use by physically challenged persons. Even western closets were absent.

As the water bodies were contaminated, the government took no steps to supply pure drinking water to the affected area for two decades after the problem became known. When Rajiv Gandhi drinking water mission was implemented in kasaragod district, the villages chosen for the project were not the endosulfan affected. Decontamination was never attempted. In fact, the remaining stocks of endosulfan with the Corporation are yet to be removed safety from the area.

This blog has said that the settlement two years ago was aimed at fooling the victims. This time also, the situation is only marginally better.

India opposes ban on pollutants

Stockholm Convention

TO VOTE OR NOT TO VOTE: Delegates to MoP of Stockholm Convention vote on whether to take a vote on listing, by raising flags, in Geneva on Saturday. Photo: Secretariat of BRS Conventions

India has been blocking moves at the Conference of Parties of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants to list more chemicals for elimination from worldwide use. This precipitated a division for the first time in the history of the Conference— which used to take decisions by consensus, at Geneva on May 16, 2015.

The vote was for listing of pentachlorophenol, an organochlorine compound used as pesticide and disinfectant, for elimination (which will lead to ban on their production and use by member countries). Residues of the pesticide have been detected in the environment in wildlife and human biomonitoring studies.

Switzerland pressed for a vote on listing of pentachlorophenol after efforts to reach a consensus failed. The Conference first took a vote on whether matter should be decided through division. Then it voted 94 against two in favour of listing with eight abstaining. The decision is not binding on India.

The Conference this time was part of combined meetings of Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions. India opposed listing of trichlorfon at the Conference of Parties of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade also, leading to deferment of decision for want of consensus. India was the only country to oppose the proposal.

It was after much remonstrance that India agreed to the resolution on elimination of endosulfan in 2011 with riders (specific exemptions that included use on multiple crop-pest complexes). Though the Convention came up with alternatives to endosulfan as decided at its 2011 Conference, India is yet take steps for ratification of the decision through approval of Parliament. This was despite findings of serious harm caused by the pesticide in Kerala and Karnataka, and possibly in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu also.

Observers had alleged that representatives of the pesticide lobby were present in the Indian delegation at the 2011 Conference of Parties to prevent the listing of endosulfan. It is not yet known whether similar situation arose this year also with new government in power. However, it is very clear that India’s opinion at the International fora is dictated by the interests of pesticide companies rather than its population or the world at large.

Regulation is lacking or unenforceable (for want of proper enforcement machinery, laboratories and political will) in India though a substantial portion of the food consumed in the country is contaminated to various levels. Pesticides are often applied unnecessarily and in excess of recommendations in agriculture fields as well as godowns in most States. A national level analysis by government of more than 16000 samples of vegetables, fruits, spices, grains and other food items showed that more than 500 samples had pesticide residues above the limits prescribed by Food Safety Standard Authority of India.

Befooling endosulfan victims:

endosulfan

Endosulfan victims staging a sit-in in front of the official residence of Chief Minister Ommen Chandy in Trivandrum in January 2014

It is more than three years now after the National Human Rights Commission gave its recommendations on compensating the victims of pesticide endosulfan in Kasaragod district in Kerala.

The State government led by Oommen Chandy rules with the motto of acting fast to achieve more in less time. However, even three years after the Commission gave its directive; the State is yet compensate all the victims and carry out the four recommendations given by it. The Central government is also to carry out another set of recommendations such as nation-wide survey of populations that have been affected by the use of endosulfan and supplementary efforts to support relief and remediation efforts of State government including establishment of a Palliative Care Centre.

endosulfan

Another view of endosulfan victims staging a sit-in in front of the official residence of Kerala Chief Minister Ommen Chandy in Trivandrum in January 2014.

The delay in implementing the recommendations by the State government belies its claim that it is a fast-acting government. In fact, several of the packages announced by the State and Central governments are in limbo including that for the endsosulfan victims. (The first of these was for the evictees of Moolampally for Vallarpadam project.).  It even appointed a committee, headed by retired judge C. N. Ramachandran Nair, to befool the victims and delay implementation of the recommendations.

This has forced the endosulfan victims to stage a protest sit-in in front of the Chief Minister’s residence. The agitation has since been settled though decision is pending on demands like rejection of the Ramachandran Nair committee report. However, doubts linger whether the government would only make a half-hearted attempt to carry out its promises just to tide over the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, whereas concerned, planned action is called for in Kasaragod.

 

Alternatives to endosulfan

The recommendations of 100 alternatives to endosulfan, approved by the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants on October 18, should be an eye-opener for governments and agricultural scientists who were arguing that there were no cheap alternatives.

endosulfan_boyIt is notable that the Committee has also recommended non-chemical alternatives which could indeed work out to be a cheap alternative. This is the first time that a Review Committee of the Stockholm Convention recommends non-chemical alternatives to a chemical proposed for elimination under the Convention.

The Union Agriculture Ministry has long been arguing that there is no alternative to endosulfan and hence it should be banned only in Kerala and Karnataka where intensive use had affected the health and well-being of people. However, evidence is emerging that endosulfan was indeed causing harm to people in other States such as Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Punjab also. It is high time that the ministry looked at the alternatives suggested by the Committee and promoted ecosystem-based approaches on pest management as well as technical interventions using natural plant extracts in a big way.

The Kerala government has the responsibility to present the findings of various studies and the recommendations of the Committee before the Supreme Court which is considering the case for ban on endosulfan across the country. It is not clear whether the Court has changed its earlier view that no more studies are needed to establish the link between endosulfan and the health effects on people. However, it apparently want expert opinion on nation-wide ban. It is notable that India is already committed to phase out of endosulfan being a party to the Stockholm Convention.

POP Review Committee approves 100 alternatives to endosulfan
Assessment of alternatives to endosulfan
POPRC Report on alternatives
Endosulfan– Spray of Death


 

 

Not being a vote bank, endosulfan victims fail to get their due

The government has declined to write off the loans for endosulfan victims though it is offering debt relief to farmers and fishermen.  The government says it did not have the money to write off the loans of the families of the victims amounting to about Rs. 50 crores while it is willing to find bigger sums for farmers and fishermen.

BLINDED FOR LIFE: Devikiran and Jeevanraj, identified as vicitms of endosulfan by government, with their mother

The loans were taken mostly taken for the treatment of the victims and many families are not in a position to repay them.  The government plans to pay the victims compensation of Rs. 5 lakhs / Rs. 3 lakhs recommended by the National Human Rights Commission. These are to be paid in installments and through the banks.  For many, this would only suffice to repay their loans. Some may not even get the amounts as the banks would adjust them against their loans.

Compensation for victims can be considered adequate only if that covers the treatment costs and ensure a decent living. Farmers and fishermen could get their demands conceded because they are better organised and the politicians have stake in terms of their votes. The endosulfan victims are no a vote bank. However, the situation is changing with the victims and their families themselves getting organised and coming forward to fight their cause. (Till, now the fight for justice to the victims were being fought by outsiders or those marginally affected by the spraying of the pesticide by the State-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala). The government will heed them when get organised and stand together forgetting any communal or other considerations.

Endosufan controversy: truth is not easy to decipher

Whether there is any substance in the controversy over the letter written by Principal Secretary (Health) to the Community Medicine Department of Kozhikode Medical College asking, essentially, whether they are willing to make any amends to the report of their studies on endosulfan is not easy to determine.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has denied any wrong-doing by officials of the Health Department in their response to legal notice on endosulfan and that no minister had seen the file or the correspondence.  Even if a Minister has given a directive, the Health Secretary has seen to it that the letter is carefully worded after obtaining the advice of the Law Department.  The letter written by the Health Secretary is reproduced below.

The wordings like the use of ‘impediment’ may suggest a bias in favour of endosulfan manufacturers.  However, the net result of final decision communicated to Mr. Ganesan strengthens the legal case in favour of ban on endosulfan.  From the letter (reproduced below) read with earlier communication to the Department, it would appear that the government is upholding the results of the studies after due process and had shown no bias towards the Department.  It could be that the Principal Secretary Rajiv Sadanandan acted intelligently.

The only problem with the letter is that the date appears to have been over-written. Was it sent before the controversy broke out or after that?

Such doubts arise because the history of the UDF government headed by Oommen Chandy was not one of unblemished support to the victims of endosulfan. As pointed out in an earlier post, the Agriculture Secretary of the Government had signed the report of the Mayee Committee (conclusions are reproduced below) hardly a fortnight before  Mr. Chandy set out to tour the affected villages of Kasaragod district promise solace to the victims in 1984.

Recommendations of Mayee Committee

Endosulfan: the denouement

The Supreme Court has finally said it: no more studies are needed (to establish the link between the broad spectrum pesticide endosulfan and the health effects on people).  This is apparently the results of work done by Dr. Mohammed Aisheel and others in compiling a large bibliography of studies on endosulfan besides recent studies by Kerala government and various research establishments.

The studies showed   that the endosulfan could cause large number of diseases reported from Kasaragod district of Kerala and Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka and the mechanism of action of the pesticide in human body. Studies may still be needed to conclusively establish that some of the diseases manifesting in the district is indeed caused by endosulfan.

endosulfan

A severely handicapped child who is getting assistance as an endosulfan victim

That is, while endosulfan as cause of many diseases is established, it may be more difficult to establish that the very diseases in a person or group are caused by endosulfan. The disease can be caused by other factors and these needed to be eliminated to prove the latter. However, the Supreme Court is satisfied with the evidence at hand and ordered continuing of the nation-wide ban on endosulfan on the basis of the precautionary principle.

It is notable that the Union Agriculture Commissioner maintained in his report prepared for the committee appointed by the Supreme Court that said that the problems were confined to Kerala and Karnataka and recommended ban only in these two States.  They had even taken the line of the endosulfan manufacturers that endosulfan is safe to pollinators which goes against the findings of the Kerala Agriculture University.

It is also notable that much of the data and studies linking endosulfan to various diseases were available when the O.P. Dubey and C. D. Mayee committees appointed by the Central government declared that no link had been established between the use of endosulfan in the estates of Plantation Corporation of Kerala and the health problems reported from the Padre village. The Director of Agriculture of Kerala Government, who was a member of the Mayee committee, signed the committee report. This was despite the findings of the expert committee (headed by Dr. P. K. Sivaraman), appointed by the Kerala government, which was before him.  The report was submitted in August 2003 and the Director signed the report in December 2004, hardly ten days before then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy visited Kasaragod promising succor to the endosulfan victims.

The victims are yet to get the package promised to them except for sanction given for a project funded by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). Though it has been shown that the aerial spraying of endosulfan was done disregarding the rules and without valid requirement for pest management, no action had been taken against any of the officials culpable of poisoning entire villages.

Endosulfan: spray of death
Endosulfan: brochure published by Kerala Government (13 MB)
Endosulfan: a Kerala story