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Toxic pesticide "killed" 50 in Vidarbha in 2017: Maharashtra govt report blames it on farmers, fails to ban it

By Our Representative
A Maharashtra government-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) report has shockingly blamed farmers and farm labourers for a massive outbreak of contact poisoning by inhaling a toxic chemical cocktail during the intensified spraying of pesticides on cotton plants in order to fight the increasing menace of pests in the Vadarbha region.
While the SIT, in its report made public recently, also recommends a complete ban on monocrotophos, an organophosphate that deploys systemic and contact action on crops, which is banned in many countries due to its toxic effects on humans and birds, the Maharashtra government only complied with a limited-period ban.
Effected in November, prohibiting its sale and marketing for 60 days, the state government ban, says an investigation by the People's Archive of Rural India (PARI), set up by well-known rural journalist P Sainath, was “not enforced”.
Pointing out that “the central government has the power to ban monocrotophos in the country under the Insecticides Act”, the investigation by Jaideep Hardikar, a PARI member, says that “states too can suspend the licenses of pesticide manufacturers and sellers, or stop issuing new licenses or renewing them.”
Thus, Punjab has done this – at the end of January 2018 it decided to not issue fresh licences for 20 pesticides, including monocrotophos, which the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation classifies as “acutely hazardous.” Kerala banned monocrotophos a while ago. And Sikkim, a fully organic state, “does not allow the use of any chemical pesticide.”
SIT was set up to probe into pesticide-related deaths and illnesses in Yavatmal and other parts of Vidarbha. Constituted on October 10, 2017, and headed by Piyush Singh, the Amravati divisional commissioner, other SIT members included Dr. Vijay Waghmare, in-charge director of the Central Institute of Cotton Research, Nagpur, and Kiran Deshkar from the Directorate of Plant Protection, Faridabad.
The SIT report, in Marathi, submitted in December 2017, was made public only after the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court asked the state government to do so in January 2018, while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by social activist and former Communist Party of India (Marxist) worker, Jammu Anand.
PARI investigation regrets, the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, has sought to underplay the tragedy caused by the pesticide, saying Maharashtra “saw 272 deaths due to pesticide poisoning in the last four years – implying that the 2017 phenomenon was not unusual”.
However, it adds, government hospital data had a different story to tell. “Going by Vasantrao Naik Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) data and the accounts of the doctors who attended to the patients during the 2017 spraying period, Yavatmal had never seen accidental pesticide poisoning of that magnitude”, a PARI article says.
It adds, last year farmers into hospitals “complaining of vision loss, nausea, dizziness, nervousness, partial paralysis, panic and other symptoms”, with “at least 50 died, over 1,000 became sick, some for months.”
Giving the example of Bandu Sonule, a farm labourer, aged 40, who collapsed on his employer’s cotton field in Amdi village on September 19, 2017, after he sprayed he sprayed pesticides on cotton plants in scorching heat, PARI says, he was first admitted in a local hospital, but was later shifted to GMCH in Yavatmal in an ambulance, died on September 23.
Pointing out that most of the pesticide poisoning patients come to GMCH in Yavatmal for treatment, PARI says, those who come early and on whom the crucial cholinesterase test to detect organophosphate compounds in the blood is performed, are saved.
Things are different for others, who become sick during the July-November 2017 spraying period, and remain without test and antidote to this poisoning. For several weeks, says the report, doctors continue to treat farmers and labourers “symptomatically”, but the “crucial blood tests” are “not done at all.”

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