SC ruling on endosulfan welcome

The Supreme Court’s order directing the Kerala government to pay Rs 5 lakh compensation to 5,000 victims of the banned pesticide endosulfan is important, and it should set a precedent in similar cases. The judgement meets the ends of justice to some extent because it recognises the responsibility of governments for their decisions and actions and makes them liable to pay compensation for the damage to heath and losses suffered by the citizens. The laws and their enforcement in such situations are yet to develop fully in India. The issues which arose after the Bhopal gas disaster were not resolved in favour of the victims. It showed that the existing laws and their enforcement were inadequate to provide justice to victims. Since then the compensation issue has been tested in other cases, and the responsibility of governments and private parties to compensate victims in many situations has been fixed. Laws develop as much through case histories as by formulation. The judgement in the endosulfan case is a welcome addition to the positive and evolving judicial thinking on the matter.

The court has told the state government to release the entire compensation in three months and recover the amount, if it wanted, from the pesticide companies which produced and distributed endosulfan. It has also told the government to provide lifelong healthcare to the victims. The history of endosulfan in the country is one of indiscriminate use without knowledge of its ill effects, refusal to acknowledge them even when they were brought to public attention and callousness on the part of governments in dealing with the issues raised by its use. Aerial spraying of the pesticide on cashew plantations in Kasaragod district in Kerala resulted in serious health problems for many people in that district and neighbouring areas in Karnataka. The problems included neurological and cognitive disorders, blindness, hydrocephalus, mental retardation and genetic defects for new-born babies. The terrible pictures of the victims and their suffering have shaken the whole country, but it took the governments a long time to take steps to put an end to its use.

The Supreme Court banned its use in 2011 but the Central government said that it would only be phased out by 2017. Though 125 countries have banned it, India was still not convinced. Some past governments had even defended its use. The court’s judgement provides some relief to the victims but many would consider the compensation inadequate. All the victims have not been identified too. Those who have been left out in both states should be identified and given compensation.

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