Ahead of the Supreme Court (SC) hearing scheduled for April 28 on the controversy over a ban on 27 pesticides, a section of industry has questioned the basis on which monocrotophos, considered one of the most harmful pesticides for human health, has been included in the list of 24 on which a ban was lifted by a draft order issued in February 2023.
But civil society representatives are questioning the draft on a very different ground. They are arguing that the move to dilute the original ban order on all 27 pesticides is wrong and overlooks several key factors.
The SC sought the Centre’s reply in four weeks (from March 27, 2023) explaining the basis on which the original ban order was reversed and also placed on record the reports of the committee formed to review the ban.
The controversy dates back to a May 2020 order of the government banning the import, manufacture, sale, transport, distribution and use of 27 pesticides that were considered harmful to public health and safety.
These 27 pesticides were widely used as part of the 66 contentious pesticides that were being reviewed by various bodies over the past several years for their toxicity. Some reports said the banned pesticides included 12 insecticides, eight fungicides and seven herbicides, comprising almost 130 formulations.
Although the government reportedly gave the industry time to record their objections, the issue was not resolved. At the request of several major industry bodies, a panel was formed under the chairmanship of T P Rajendran, former assistant director general of Indian Council of Agriculture Research and a well-known expert in the field. Though the results of this committee’s findings were not made public, reports suggested that it had recommended retaining the ban on three of the 27 pesticides and freeing the remaining ones.
Is it time for India to abandon GMO crop fears?
Civil society, pesticide industry present contrasting picture on ban order
Archean Chemical gains 12% on debut, shares worth Rs 1,014 cr traded
Three questions on EWS quota: Here's what the Supreme Court judges said
Supreme Court upholds 10 per cent reservation for EWS in 3:2 verdict
Punjab after Parkash Singh Badal: An era passes and a new one begins
Defying police notice, Maha farmers start 52-km 'long march' in Ahmednagar
Indo-Korea bilateral trade grows 17% to record $27.8 bn in 2022: Kotra
Amit Shah launches IFFCO's nano DAP fertiliser for commercial sale
PM Modi calls for integrated, inclusive global response to healthcare
There is some confusion on the contents of the findings and terms of reference of the committee itself.
This is because civil society activists in their petition to the SC said that they weren’t aware of the findings of the committee, its terms of reference and the process it followed to arrive at the conclusion. But, industry players said, the Rajendran panel report is available.
Thereafter, the government modified the original ban order and issued a fresh draft in February 2023 retaining the ban on only three of the pesticides while freeing all others.
Civil society groups approached the SC questioning the revised order. Kavitha Kuruganthi, a petitioner in the case and convener of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, demanded a total ban on all 27 pesticides as originally envisaged.
In a letter, she said that 21 of these 27 pesticides were classified as “highly hazardous pesticides” and 17 of them were in use when the Insecticides Act, 1968, came into force and these DRPs (deemed to be registered pesticides) have actually not been proven to be safe by any ex-ante risk assessment. Three of these pesticides are World Health Organization (WHO) Class IB pesticides and 13 are Class II pesticides — which mean they are acutely toxic.
A section of the pesticides industry, on the other hand, has demanded that the ban be scrapped but also has asked why monocrotophos still hasn’t been included in the banned list. “Monocrotophos is highly toxic by all routes of exposure. It is classified as a highly hazardous pesticide by the WHO. We are not in favour of using this pesticide,” Kalyan Goswami, director general of Agro Chem Federation, told <Business Standard> a few weeks ago.
Rajendran, the man on whose recommendations the government is believed to have revised its original order, said that all chemicals and pesticides including the toothpaste we use is harmful for human health. What matters is the dosage, the formulation composition and the way humans have been asked to use the product.
“One cannot simply say that all pesticides are harmful and all pesticides are to be banned based on hearsay. What is important here is what Indian medical records say on the harm that a particular pesticide has done to human beings or to those who are exposed to it over a reasonable period of time,” Rajendran told Business Standard.
“In India,” he went on to explain, “we have a record of harm that any said pesticide has caused to human health over a fairly long period, say 30-40 years, and not just in the last few years. Plus, the Central Insecticides Board (CIB) is regularly seized of matters related to the harmful impact of any pesticide and they are the ones competent to say whether any pesticide is bad or not.”
On the clean chit his committee gave to 24 of the 27 originally banned pesticides, Rajendran said all of them, including monocrotophos, has been in use in India for the past 30 or 40 years and there is absolutely no data provided by agencies to claim that there has been any adverse health impact due to their use.
So why did his committee exclude three of the 27 pesticides from the clean chit? Rajendran said that this was because the manufacturers had stopped production of the three items in the country and they were not available anywhere. “The manufacturers themselves have given it in writing that they are no longer making these three pesticides, which have been removed from the free list,” he said.
On why monocrotophos has not been kept in the list of banned pesticides despite it being on the WHO list of harmful chemicals, Rajendran said that the earlier formulation that was registered in the country was on the higher side of toxicity and the manufacturers had come out with a new formulation, which is already registered with the CIB and the old one has been withdrawn.
“All pesticides have a label in them specifying good agriculture practices, with right dosage, time of application, precautions to be taken and so on. If somebody violates that, it is that individual’s problem and not a national or a government issue,” Rajendran said.
Which of the arguments will convince the SC is still to be determined.
- July 2013: Govt constitutes the Anupam Verma panel to review 66 pesticides
- Nov 2015: Anupam Verma committee submits report
- Dec 2015: Registration Committee (RC) under the Insecticides Act accepts the Anupam Verma report and the panel asks for 27 pesticides to be reviewed by 2018
- Dec 2016: Govt issues draft ban order on 27 pesticides based on Anupam Verma panel recommendations
- 2017-18: Govt constitutes two more committees to look at public feedback of the draft order
- Dec 2019: RC sets up a sub-committee to review ban on 27 pesticides
- May 2020: RC accepts the recommendations of the sub-committee on the ban and sends it to the ministry of agriculture
- May 2020: Govt notifies draft ban on 27 pesticides and gives 45 days for public feedback. It also forms another panel under T P Rajendran. Civil society says no information about its contents exist in the public domain
- Feb 2023: Draft prohibition order notified by govt on only 3 of the 27 pesticides originally banned
Source: SC petition filed by Kavitha Kuruganthi and others