The Silent Martyrs: Balance Sheet of Endosulfan Use in Kerala

Posted on May 1, 2012 in Environment

By Neelima Ravindran:

The verdict is out, the ban is in place and the country moves on. But for the victims of one of the deadliest environment pollution that Kerala has ever seen, life remains where it was for the last 20 years; paralysed, dark and in unimaginable agony. These are the martyrs of improper and indiscriminate spraying of endosulfan in the state, the many who lost their lives and others whose misery lingers on as their existence cry out to mankind the ill-effects of toxic pesticides to our lives and our environment.

From 1976 to 2000, the central government-owned Plantation Co-operation of Kerala aerially sprayed endosulfan on their cashew plantations, spread over nine villages in Kasragode, the northern most district of Kerala, to eradicate tea mosquitoes, a serious pest of cashew crop. The people living in the plantation and around it were exposed to this hazardous toxin for around 25 years. The first sign of deformities was seen in the cattle which by the nineties started raising its ugly head in humans. Children were born with congenital malformations and mental retardations; infertility, reproductive disorders, high occurrence of miscarriage, high child mortality rate and other health disorders literally turned the villages in the area to living hells. The plantation co-operation violated all norms for pesticide use as endosulfan is not recommended for aerial spray; moreover the water bodies were not protected while the spraying of the insecticide. As a result soil, water, sediments were all affected by the killer spray. Several activists and National Human Rights Commission along with the victims fought a tedious battle for the nationwide ban on endosulfan and in 2011 after a series of flip flops; India finally gave in to international and national pressure at the Stockholm convention and agreed to the suspension. The Supreme Court later froze the production and distribution of endosulfan in the country going against the centre submitted affidavit which, mostly owing to the pressure of the huge pesticide industry, suggested that there was no evidence in any studies that scientific use of endosulfan could cause problems.

But the battle is only half won. The victims of the tragedy still fight for their life day in and day out. The relief programs and rehabilitation of these victims, which has been more of a lip service until now, should be a priority for the state and central government and treatments and support should be rendered in a timely manner. There is an outcry for a super speciality hospital or medical college in the district to treat the victims as there is an acute shortage of doctors and medical facilities in the region. Many of the affected are poor labourer families to whom the monitory assistance and adequate compensations should be provided. The government should also furnish alternatives for the farmers who fear lower agricultural output. Rising against the industry pressure, effective integrated pest management programs should be incorporated into main stream agricultural practices. This ban should also act as a spark of proactive thought while dealing with chemicals and pesticides, the residues of which present in our food and ground water could be harmful to our ecology in the long run.

For a little gain, generations should not be erased. The public health should and must be the priority for any government. The diligent social activists, vigilant media and the earnest citizens of the country should unite for the cause. The deformed children, the weeping mothers, the polluted lands, all stand testimony to the traumatic sufferings that continue to haunt Kasragode. How many more studies do we need to prove the point?