Endosulfan: the Kerala story

Cover of the book published by Kerala Government, Endosulfan: the Kerala story

Chief Minister of Kerala V. S. Achuthanandan should be congratulated for offering fast on April 25 to press for ban on endosulfan. However, it only becomes penance for four years of inaction after he assumed office.

Despite the sympathies expressed for endosulfan campaign while he was the Opposition leader, Mr. Achuthanandan did hardly anything for the endosulfan victims for four years. He could not excuse himself that his party was in the way as this was one of the few issues on which the party was not at odds with him.

However, he scrambled back into action by the time the elections were around the corner. The Cabinet entrusted the State Council for Science, Technology and Environment with a quick assessment of the damage. However, the time available was very limited for a scientific study and the expert committee could not submit its report till now. It faced problems about sampling, testing and selection of control populations.

So, the all-party delegation went to Delhi without a scientifically prepared dossier but with a brochure on endosulfan to persuade the Centre to support an on endosulfan. The Centre took refuge on need for further studies though further studies are not really needed for the purpose of ban. There is ample evidence that endosulfan causes many diseases though it can be debated whether a particular case is caused by endosulfan. However, considering the known mechanisms of its causing diseases and known status of endosulfan persistent organic pollutant and one that can gravely affect the brain and reproductive systems, the precautionary principle applies. The principle has been upheld by courts in India, yet it has not been forcefully raised by the delegation.

The government claims to have provided much assistance to the victims in recent months. However, it did not match even non-governmental organisations like Solidarity (youth arm of Jama ate Islami) . However, it is to be acknowledged that it did provide considerable medical assistance though it did not reach all. Though it has announced Rs. 2000 a month each to the victims in this year’s budget, the job of distributing it actually falls on the next government.  Even the Rs. 300 a month announced for by-standers are yet to reach many affected families. There are complaints that the survey done by the government to identify victims were not exhaustive even while it allowed some people affected by non-endosulfan related diseases to get into the list.

Though the problem in Kasaragod was known to governments for two decades, they had done nothing to decontaminate the area, supply pure drinking water or promote replacement of food crops with cash crops as food crops in the area also carried endosulfan residues according to some studies.

It is known that the officials of the Plantation Corporation of Kerala violated several laws in spraying endosulfan over large areas with little precautions. Though the Chief Minister promised action against them six months ago, no steps had actually been taken. A police investigation would be needed to find out whether they have also dumped stocks in pits and covered them up.  If the Corporation and its officials are allowed to go scot free, tragedies like that in Kasaragod would recur. In fact, it is already happening in Idukki district and elsewhere as motorised pumps are used to spray deadly pesticides.