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Drone spraying pesticides 'catastrophic' for humans, agriculture, ecology, wildlife

By Our Representative 

Narasimha Reddy Donthi, former board member of IFOAM-Asia, which is part of the Germany-based International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), a pioneering organization on organic farming across the world, in a letter to the secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers, taking strong exception to the Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) released for aerial spraying of pesticides, has said that the move contradicts the Insecticide Act.
Pointing out that he had brought this to the notice of the Central Insecticide Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC), Dhonti says, allowing aerial spraying, using drones and unmanned, remote controlled vehicles can be catastrophic to humans, agriculture, farmers, ecology and wildlife.
Currently adjunct professor, Padala Rama Reddy Law College, and member, Research Advisory Committee, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad, Dhonti insists on the withdrawal of the interim approval for drone application of pesticides, SOP for drone application of pesticides, and blanket approval for drone application of pesticides.
Regretting that his view was ignored, Dhonti says, instead the Ministry has developed an SOP for drone applications of pesticides. He adds, “SOP falls far short of expectations and technical content. Consequently, it lacked imagination on establishing standards. The language is vague and non-binding.” Further, there is a failure to “integrate science, ecological and environmental factors into the SOP.”
Attaching a detailed set of comments along with his letter, Dhonti says, the document allowing aerial spraying of pesticides “seems to have been done in a hurry, without proper assessment of possible impacts and wider consultation”, pointing out, “While CIBRC took more than two years to arrive at this draft, the window period given for public comments was only 30 days.”
Stating that “the industry, which benefits directly from this was made part of the consultation process, from the beginning”, the letter regrets, “Other stakeholders did not get to participate in this process on par with manufacturers of drones and pesticides”, which “violates” the principle of public participation being “part and parcel of public policy making.”
Says Dhonti, “The constant urge to share data from the drone operators, both in the SOP and the interim approval, indicates that this Ministry was not working on field data and practical experiences. Its approvals appear to be ad hoc and unscientific. Alarmingly, these approvals are about aerial spraying of highly hazardous agrochemicals which can be fatal for life, even in minuscule doses.”
He adds, “It appears that the Ministry and CIBRC failed to realise that drones can spray copious amounts of these agrochemicals. Since pesticides are hazardous products, using them aerially should be regulated strictly for public and environment safety. In a further mis-step, the CIBRC has gone ahead with an interim approval of application of pesticide formulations through drones on 12th April, 2022, without referring to a particular legal clause, under which this was given.”
Asserting that pesticide registration is “based on data generated through surface level application”, the letter says, “However, CIBRC extends its approval for usage already approved pesticide formulations for aerial application, based on representation from pesticide industry lobby”, ignoring “detailed, considered, researched approval.” It adds, the approval “is not based on biosafety parameters and also ignores the well laid principle of caution.”

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