Time for a reality check

Time for  a reality  check

The fight to seek justice for endosulfan victims in Dakshina Kannada has gone on for over five years. There is a marked difference in the manner in which neighbouring Kerala has addressed the issue. It’s not as if all is well in that state, but authorities there have responded to ground realities faster, report Amiya Meethal and Akshatha M


It has been over five years since the fight for seeking justice and rehabilitation for endosulfan victims began in Dakshina Kannada district, but nothing significant has been achieved so far.

While comparatively much has been done for the welfare of endosulfan victims in neighbouring Kerala thanks to media reports, awareness levels and the will power of politicians and bureaucrats, unfortunately, the Karnataka government has failed to take up this burning issue seriously.

A change of elected representatives and the government in the State have not meant much. It is a well-known fact that initial studies taken up by endosulfan activists revealed that Karnataka Cashew Development Corporation (KCDC) had indeed carried out aerial spray of endosulfan on its cashew plantations in the villages of Belthangady taluk in Dakshina Kannada district to control the tea-mosquito bug in cashew plantations. What was then revealed was only the tip of the ice-berg. As a few activists dug deeper into the issue, seeking information from the KCDC under RTI, what was revealed was the horror that the KCDC had resorted to aerial spray of endosulfan in 92 villages in four taluks, viz., Puttur, Belthangady, Sullia and Bantwal in DK district and over 75 villages in Udupi and Uttara Kannada district. Hundreds of people in these regions are suffering.

Surveys

The revelations, followed by reports on the presence of endosulfan victims in all the three districts, created some sort of awareness, forcing the government to take up the issue. Initially, as endosulfan cases in Belthangady taluk gained attention, the government conducted a survey of three villages in the taluk namely Kokkada, Nidle and Patrame and identified 251 victims who were given a compensation of Rs 50,000 each in 2009.

Owing to increased demand for conducting re-evaluation surveys, the health department conducted survey work through medical camps in DK and Udupi and identified 1,907 and 1,703 victims in the two regions, respectively.

A meeting was convened at the deputy commissioner’s office in Mangalore where a brainstorming session was held in the presence of officers from both the districts and experts from Kerala. Now, with the new government having come to power, it seems the work has to start afresh. Refusing to disclose the statistics of the last survey, DK District Health Officer Dr Srirangappa said, “we have conducted the survey a few months ago, but now we are waiting for fresh guidelines from the new government.”

How did Kerala handle it?

Elected representatives and bureaucrats in Karnataka who have been messing up with the endosulfan issue must learn a few lessons from the way in which the Kerala government addressed the issue in a short span. “It's not that all is well in Kasargod, but still authorities have done a good job, though we had to resort to a series of protests including indefinite hunger strikes,” notes activist Narayanan Periya.

It was in 2006 that the zilla panchayat in Kasargod, with the help of local doctors, first conducted medical camps in areas with a large number of people with multiple diseases. Soon, the local administration identified the gravity of the situation and set up Endosulfan Victims’ Relief Cell to conduct camps, identify victims and provide them relief and rehabilitation measures. Soon, the Kerala government assigned a board consisting of 11 specialist doctors to examine victims in a comprehensive manner.

Following the camp, the Kerala government took over the Cell renaming it the Endosulfan Victims’ Relief and Rehabilitation Cell, which consisted of ZP president, district collector, elected representatives and endosulfan activists. Out of the total screened 34,000 people, 5,500 were identified as victims and 11 gram panchayats were announced as endo affected.

Financial aid

Once the identification of endo victims was completed, the Kerala government began the process of distribution of financial aid. So far, the government has disbursed Rs 34.98 crore as financial aid in the first phase upon the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which visited Kasargod in December, 2010. It is important to note that 50 per cent of the total financial aid is to be borne by the Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK) which had conducted aerial spraying, causing irreparable damage. In Karnataka, the KCDC has not yet been held responsible for the endo tragedy.

Deputy Collector of Kasargod district collectorate, K Sudheer Babu, who is in charge of the Endosulfan Victims’ Relief and Rehabilitation Cell, said the victims can avail treatment in 18 selected super speciality hospitals in Kerala and Karnataka absolutely free of cost. Also the victims are provided with a monthly pension of Rs 2,000 or Rs 1,000 according to their categorisation. In addition, the government has been providing monthly pension of Rs 400 to the caretakers of the mentally challenged and bed-ridden victims.

In the pipeline

“Who will look after my endo-affected kid after my death?” is the most disturbing question hapless mothers have been asking since long.

Kerala has envisaged a comprehensive training, treatment and rehabilitation center in Kasargod. “The centre should cost around 20 crore; 25 acres have already been acquired for the purpose at Muliyar,” Kasargod District Collector P S Mohammed Sagir says. “No scientific study or diagnosis can confirm that the various diseases are caused by endo exposure alone. As endo residues deposit in human fat and not in blood, there is no mechanism available to ensure that the patient is fully a victim of aerial spraying,” says the rehabilitation cell’s Assistant Nodal Officer Dr Mohammed Asheel.

In this scenario, everyone, including authorities, knew that all the victims were not genuine endosulfan victims. But this did not hold back the government or anti-endo organisations to fight for the cause and provide relief measures. This gesture has been a pathbreaking one in the long fight against endosulfan in Kasargod. “If a normal cancer patient from an endo-affected area claims that he was affected due to aerial spraying, the government has no option but to oblige,” admits DC Sudheer Babu.

As far as Karnataka is concerned, work on providing rehabilitation to endo victims has to begin from scratch. A comprehensive scientific survey has to be carried out by government bodies. They need to set up physical boundaries where the KCDC had carried out aerial spraying and identify migrants from the endo areas by giving them a chance to self-declare. Following this, a cell consisting of local authorities, bureaucrats, medical experts, political representatives and activists, can be constituted to co-ordinate and review the relief and rehabilitation measures.

At present, only those victims from DK who were identified in 2009, are given a monthly pension. (The pension is the same for all physically and mentally challenged individuals). Two day-care centres at Kokkada and Koila too lack basic infrastructure.

Victims’ demands

The Endosulfan Virodhi Horata Samiti, Kokkada had submitted a list of demands to the government. Samiti President and activist Sridhar Gowda said the Samiti has sought distribution of financial aid of Rs 5 lakh and monthly pension of Rs 5,000 to every victim. They have also demanded the setting up of a rehabilitation centre in every taluk and a day-care centre in every village, free scanning for pregnant women in endo-affected areas, etc. The Samiti had planned a ‘Bangalore Chalo’ campaign to protest in front of Freedom Park along with endosulfan victims. But that has been put off following an assurance from the health minister that the issue would be addressed in a month.

On asked about the State government’s immediate plans to address the problem, Health and Family Welfare Minister U T Khader said he had directed his department to conduct a survey in all the endo-affected areas in three districts and submit a report within a month. “We do not want to settle the issue by giving just a one-time compensation as it will not serve the purpose; our focus is instead on providing a long-term solution.”

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