A clutch of pesticides that could be carcinogenic and banned in many countries will continue their run in India, though a government panel has recently decided to ban 18 insect killers hazardous to human health and prohibited abroad.
This is the first time a decision to ban such a big number of pesticides was taken. There are 261 pesticides registered in India but only 28 had been banned so far.
It followed an agriculture ministry expert committee’s findings that 19 of 66 pesticides, most of which are used in India for the past four decades but banned in foreign nations, are “likely/probable carcinogenic in nature”. The results were based on studies conducted worldwide.
The panel constituted in 2015 said in its report to the government last December that chemicals used in these pesticides are highly toxic.
Environmental activists called the measure too little, late too. “For 40 years we had been eating these chemicals. It’s a failure of the regulatory mechanism. We first allow such chemicals to enter our food chain and then conduct tests on them,” said Sridhar Radhakrishnan, the programme director of Thanal, a non-profit working on pesticide-affected communities in Kerala.
Hazardous pesticides include Butachlor, Mancozeb, Carbaryl, Benomyl, Alachlor, Diuron, and Trichlorfon — popularly used in controlling pests in wheat, paddy, maize, groundnut, grapes, banana, tomato and brinjal and insecticides like DDT and Fenthion, used for household-pest control and public health programmes.
Several other pesticides on the list cause depression, birth defects and damage to kidneys, liver and the nervous system. These are toxic to honey bees, fish and birds too, says the report.
“There are no instances to directly link health hazards to the use of these pesticides in the field but they might be causing long-term health impacts,” said Anupam Verma, adjunct professor at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute, who headed the committee.
“We recommended continuing pesticides which are extremely crucial for good production of crops. Where enough data is not available, we recommended further studies and review.”
The committee recommended immediate ban on production and import of 13 pesticides, prohibit their use by 2018 and phase out additional six pesticides by 2020.
It recommended continuation of the remaining 47 pesticides, asking for a review of 28 in 2018.
Most of the recommendations have been accepted by the registration committee of the agriculture ministry, which decides on the use of the pesticides in the country.
But the suggestion to completely ban DDT was deferred. It asked the health ministry for its comments as DDT’s use is restricted to public health programmes.
A senior agriculture ministry official said a final call on implementing the decision was pending.
The recommendations were not based entirely on health and environment impacts. Consider this. While the committee recommended a ban on eight “likely/probable carcinogenic” pesticides, it has left 11 such chemicals to be continued for now.
These include Chlorothalonil, Iprodione, Propineb, Thiodicarb, Thiophanate Methyle, Oxyfluorfen, Mancozeb, Malathion, Diuron, 2, 4-D and Butachlor, used in various cereal, vegetable and fruit crops.
Agriculture ministry data say the 18 banned pesticides constitute 11% of the total pesticide consumption in the country in the past five years. But the ones allowed to continue make for 34%.
“It is a fact that the turnover volume of a pesticide is one of the criteria in considering the ban. There are also other conditions,” said JS Sandhu, deputy director general, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, who is also the chairman of the registration committee.
The ban would hit the Indian pesticide sector, industry captains felt.
“The expert committee members were stuck with old reports and old information gathered from one or two countries as well as from NGO websites. Most of the data submitted by various companies have not been studied. We have appealed to the agriculture ministry to give us an opportunity to discuss our case product by product,” said Pradip Dave, the president of the Pesticides Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India.