Pesticide deaths point to lapses, violations

Pesticide deaths point to lapses, violations
The death of over 30 farmers in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra from poisoning and other medical problems related to the use of pesticides in the last few weeks points to serious lapses and violations of laws on the part of pesticide companies and the failure of the government to guide the farmers on their use. The National Human Rights Commission has sent notices to central and state governments charging them with negligence and violation of the farmers’ right to life and livelihood. The state government has filed cases against pesticide companies and some Krishi Seva Kendra officials for selling pesticides which are not recommended for the region. The farmers had used wrong pesticides or wrong combinations of them and faulty gear. Many of these pesticides are highly toxic and have seriously affected the health of farmers who handled them. Over 600 of them are in hospital.

Companies are known to violate norms of production and supply and to give more importance to their profits than to the safety of users. The guidelines for use are difficult to read and are lost on farmers because most of them are illiterate. Wrong and improper use is often the problem. It is the government’s responsibility to educate the farmers on the use of pesticides and give them guidance on the choice of the right pesticides and their handling and storage. The government should also ensure that the companies do not violate the laws. The use of pesticides and fertilisers has steadily increased in the country as farm production had to be increased to meet rising demands. The government has a large network of officials, extensive machinery and research institutes which in various ways can and should help in the safe use of pesticides. But they have often been found wanting.

The Maharashtra government has promised a new law on pesticides and action against guilty officials. Such promises are known not to go too far. There is, in fact, no effective legal and regulatory framework on pesticides. A Pesticides Bill to regulate the manufacture, quality, sale, import and export of pesticides, in place of the 1968 Insecticide Act, is pending in parliament since 2008. It aims to create the necessary mechanisms and safeguards for safe use and addresses issues like the risk to humans, animals and the environment. Future generations are also affected, as the Endosulfan impact in Kasargod shows. Environmental damage is a major concern. The Centre and all state governments should ensure that the best norms are followed in the use of pesticides. Though the recent deaths occurred in Maharashtra, the problem is not limited to that state.

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