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Pesticide shock in SC

New Delhi, Nov. 20: More than one in eight registered pesticides, including the controversial endosulfan, endanger people’s reproductive and nervous systems and may cause cancer and congenital deformities, a Supreme Court-appointed expert committee has said.

The panel has suggested these pesticides should be phased out over the next two years instead of their existing stocks being immediately incinerated, as the latter process would cost the exchequer Rs 1,189 crore.

A public interest litigation moved last year by CPM youth wing DYFI had sought a ban on endosulfan and complete destruction of existing stocks, arguing the chemical caused a host of health problems to the general public.

The expert panel said endosulfan was not the sole culprit and altogether “13.35 per cent of the registered pesticides” posed similar risks “to varying degrees, as published in peer-reviewed journals” across the world.

A two-judge bench took on record the committee’s report, placed before it by additional solicitor-general Gaurab Banerjee and government counsel Tayenjam Momo Singh, and said it would examine the findings at next week’s hearing.

“Endosulfan has important health hazards/biological effects related to endocrine disruption, carcinogenicity, congenital anomalies, reproductive and neurological abnormalities,” the panel said.

It said 2,821 million tonnes and 1,786 kilo tonnes, respectively, of endosulfan and its raw material were now stored across the country. It added that incinerating such a large stock was “not feasible” because the process would take years owing to the limited number of existing incinerators, and the costs would be “exorbitant”.

“The same has been corroborated by the CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board), who estimated the cost to the tune of Rs 1,189 crore for incineration and (said it) will require several years of dedicated operations.”

So, the harmful pesticides should be phased out in two years in keeping with the international practice recommended by the Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions, the experts said.

They said that during this period, the agriculture ministry should widely broadcast information about alternative pesticides. The labels on endosulfan packs and containers should clearly mention that these products are not to be used beyond a period of two years from now.

“The state... will keep detailed inventory control and ensure strict monitoring of the persons and places where endosulfan is used and keep a vigil on the unwanted health effects, if any. If any adverse effect is noted, it should be notified to the statutory state authority,” the report said.

The committee said it had taken into account the views expressed by several state governments that claimed endosulfan had no adverse effects on health.

The committee members included the director-general of health services, CPCB member secretary, joint secretary (plant protection) P.K. Nag and the director of the National Institute of Occupational Health in Ahmedabad besides scientists from the Indian Council of Medical Research, agriculture ministry and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.