Pesticides kill 28 farmers: Maharashtra government orders third probe

Fadnavis said that a case of culpable homicide will be registered against the pesticide manufacturers
By Swapnil Rawal | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON OCT 11, 2017 09:38 AM IST

Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday ordered a probe by special investigation team (SIT) into the deaths of farmers in the Vidarbha region owing to pesticide poisoning.

In the past two months, 28 farmers and farm labourers have died owing to exposure to highly toxic pesticides, according to the local administration. On Monday, the agriculture department said that 32 farmers died because of pesticide. This is the third such probe in Vidarbha region ordered by the state government. The government had not announced details of the probe till late on Tuesday.

Addressing the media, Fadnavis added that a case of culpable homicide will be registered against the pesticide manufacturers and dealers for circulating non-certified pesticide in the region. State agriculture minister Pandurang Fundkar said, “A culpable homicide case has been registered against Gharda Chemicals Ltd for selling a pesticide that is not recommended. We are in process of registering a case against Syngenta — an agro chemical company — under similar section of the Indian Penal Code.”

Gharda Chemicals Ltd. manufactures a pesticide with trade name ‘Police’, while Syngenta makes a pesticide called ‘Polo’, Fundkar said. Hindustan Times had reported on Tuesday that the state agriculture department had detected that ‘Police’— a pesticide recommended for sugarcane crop — was sold in Yavatmal, Akola, which primarily cultivate cotton.

Cases against Krishi Seva Kendras or agro-input centres have also been filed under the Insecticide Control Act 1968 for selling non-certified pesticides and selling pesticides without mandatory license. Apart from the death of the farmers, around 25 farmers have reportedly lost their vision and close to 800 farmers have been admitted to state-run hospitals after they complained of dizziness, diarrhoea, vomiting, etc.

Meanwhile, the findings and the recommendations of the probe that was headed by Sudhir Kumar Srivastava, additional chief secretary (home), were discussed in the cabinet meeting on Tuesday. The probe was set up after complaints of negligence and to inquire whether more than the prescribed level of chemicals has been used.

According to Fundkar, the district administration failed to report the matter to the state government. “The report has suggested that SOPs were not followed and there were lapses in the system to report the incident. Medico-legal cases should have been registered,” Fundkar said. The state government has suspended the Yavatmal district agriculture officer. 

A senior bureaucrat added that Srivastava recommended that farmers who employ labourers to spray pesticide should also be made accountable. “One of his recommendations was that the farmer has to provide the labourer the safety kit--gloves goggles. He (farmer) will also be responsible to take him to a doctor in case there are any issues with his (labourer) health due to spraying of pesticide,” the official who was part of the Cabinet meeting said. The minister added that there are about 25,000 labourers, mostly from Telangana, that are employed for spraying pesticides in the state. He added that the state government has distributed 12,500 safety kits in the affected districts and said that kits will be made compulsory.

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