The outcome of Stockholm Convention to ban endosulfan capping a long-drawn campaign against the pesticide on health grounds may have brought cheers to the opponents but the domestic industry is crying foul suspecting an European link aiming to capture the Indian market.
India and a few other developing countries extracted several exemptions, including a phase out period of 11 years to ban production and use of the toxic pesticide at the convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in Geneva on April 29.
Expectedly, the endosulfan's opponents, particularly in Kerala where it was alleged to have claimed 400 lives and left about 4,000 people maimed, rejoiced over the outcome while a section of the insecticide producers blamed an European influence with "vested interests" in the conference for the decision.
"The usage of endosulfan in Kerala is miniscule. There are lakhs of farmers in other states who use (endosulfan) without any health problem. Most of the sections that are against the produce have links with a network from Europe," alleges Anil J Kakkar, Vice President of Excel Crop Care, one of the three producers of endosulfan in the country.
According to domestic pesticide industry, endosulfan is the world's third largest selling generic insecticide, with a 40 million litre-plus market, valued at over USD 300 million, and India is the world's No 1 producer and exporter.
"Hoechst AG Company of Germany invented the pesticide over 55 years ago (now stopped production). Now, Indian producers have over 70 per cent of the total market and this is what the European countries do not want," says Kakkar.
Israel and China are other producers of endosulfan.
The UN-backed Stockholm Convention has now placed endosulfan in Annexure A, a list of banned chemicals posing danger to human beings and environment, with some exemptions.
"This means the conference has banned endosulfan. But, India has secured certain exemptions that will allow it to continue to use the insecticide on 22 select crops," says Harish Vasudevan, an environment activist from Thanal in Thiruvananthapuram.
The crops include cotton, jute, coffee, tea, tobacco, cow peas, beans, tomato, okra, tomato, eggplant, onion, potato, chillies, apple, mango, gram, arhar, maize, paddy/rice, wheat, groundnuts and mustard.
"It has also been decided that the convention will provide financial assistance to the developing countries to replace endosulfan with alternatives," says C Jayakumar of Thanal, an observer at the five-day conference in Geneva.
At least 81 countries across the globe have either banned or declared phase out of endosulfan, 12 nations have neither banned it or permitted it and 27 including India, Pakistan and Mexico, Ethiopia, Uganda and Zimbabwe are using it.
However, Kakkar said the decision of 27 EU countries was a common one and 21 African countries followed suit as they were aided by European nations. "It's like, if you continue to use it, we will not buy your produce."
Many European countries use herbicides to counter weeds and unwanted plants in their cold conditions. But, Indian situation was different, he said. "Our hot and humid conditions need strong insecticides," Kakkar said defending use of endosulfan.
Countering this, Vasudevan said there were over 150 health studies published in international medical journals that prove scientifically that Endosulfan causes serious health issues.
"The latest epidemiological study by the Kozhikode Government Medical College has revealed the long term health issues caused due to endosulfan," he said.
Of the total produce of over 12,800 tonnes of endosulfan in the world, three Indian companies Excel Crop Care, state-owned Hindustan Insecticides Limited and Coromandel Fertilizers Limited produce around 9,000 tonnes, accounting for over 70 per cent of the total world produce. These companies market endosulfan as Endosel, Hildan and Parrysulfan respectively.
"That is one of the reasons that India is opposing the ban. Since India is a major producer, it does not want to lose out on that," said Dr S Malarvannan a senior scientist of M S Swaminathan Research Foundation.
MSSRF founder and noted agriculture expert Dr M S Swaminathan and environment activists like Vandana Shiva have also opposed endosulfan.
As one of the exemptions that India secured at Geneva meet was its "access to safe and cost-effective alternatives," finding them would become the focus, Malarvanannan said adding, "there is an alternative for endosulfan in organic methods. In fact, organic methods can replace anything."
The furore against endosulfan started in 2001 after the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment published a report on its "negative effects" on human beings, a claim challenged by industry as "scientifically implausible".
Ahmedabad-based National Institute for Occupational Health also gave a report against endosulfan in 2002 but the industry rejected it, saying the instrument used by NIOH cannot detect endosulfan residues lower than 1 ppb (parts per billion).
There were reports by O P Dubey Committee in 2004 and C D Mayee Committee in 2005 that said there were no links between the health issues reported in Kasaragod in Kerala and endosulfan. But, conclusions of Dubey Commitee, Sunita Narain of Down to Earth claimed, were "doctored."
The issue resurfaced again this month as the industry and activists locked horns in the backdrop of the fifth meeting of Conference of Parties of Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, an official body that decides on the ban of any chemical produce.
Kerala went aggressive in its opposition this time and Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan, who has been campaigning against endosulfan for years, staged a fast on April 25 and wrote to his counterparts in other states seeking their support for a national ban on endosulfan.
The Karnataka Government had in March had written to the Centre stating that "a wide range of health problems have been reported to be caused by endosulfan and stimulation of central nervous system is the main characteristic of its poisoning."
The National Human Rights Commission in December last year had recommended to the Centre to take administrative and legislative action to ban the use of endosulfan, after considering the report submitted by National Institute of Occupational Health.
Endosulfan Ban: Pesticide Industry Sees European Link
Denis S Jesudasan/Chennai
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