V.S.Achuthanandan, Chief Minister of Kerala, leads a day's fast, at Martyrs Column, Trivandrum, seeking nation wide ban on Endosulfan.
Endosulfan is an effective pesticide used by farmers against pests likely to destroy their crops. It is said to be cheap and affordable to farmers belonging to marginal and low income groups owning small and medium farm holdings. It also comes in dirt cheap for big farmers owning large tracts of land where economies of scale are in operation.
The use of Endosulfan is found to cause harmful effects to humans and biodiversity and hence many countries prohibit its production and use.Perhaps the absence of a cheap and effective alternative made India overlook these hazards and continue with the use of Endosulfan. Today, one of the major producers of Endosulfan is the Government of India owned Hindustan Insecticides Limited.
The Plantation Corporation of Kerala is a state government owned undertaking formed to accelerate agro-economic development. Cashew farming is one of their major occupations and the Company owns and manages cashew farms in Kasargode, the northern most district of Kerala. To protect its cashew crops the Company decided to opt for aerial spraying of Endosulfan using helicopters. It was to be supplemented with manual pumping. This practice started in the 1970's and continued up to the early years of this century.
The sudden appearance of deformities in many new born babies and disorders in their central nervous system puzzled doctors and the public. Concern on this count led investigators to the presence of high levels of Endosulfan in soil, air and water in the area. Levels of Endosulfan in human blood were found to be many times higher than the maximum residue level of Endosulfan in water.
Indiscriminate aero spraying of Endosulfan over long peiods of time led to this situation. Chemcals got mixed with water bodies and were consumed by humans. Even if one accepts the Industry's side of no evidence being available regarding occurrence of genetic diseases from other parts of India where Endosulfan is used, it cannot be denied that aerial spraying is vastly different from manual application .
This aerial spraying which can be compared to chemical warfare resulted in large quantities of Endosulfan being deposited in the water bodies, soil and atmosphere of the area. Humans and animals were affected by this contaminated water and air and the rich biodiversity of the area disappeared.
It took years for the conscience of the public of this politically active state to be shaken and help and succour to reach the afflicted. NGO's working in the field of environment and health were responsible for this awakening. Sri.V.S.Achuthanandan as Chief Minister and earlier as Leader of the Opposition was deeply concerned about this issue and sympathetic to the plight of the victims.
Today it is the focus of attention at the national and international level. Demands are made that India support Endosulfan ban at the Stockholm conference on Persistent Organic Pollutants. The government has resisted this. It is also suggested that Tribunals be set up to decide on the quantum of compensation to be paid to the victims.
The 'polluter pays' principle is the cornerstone to determine legal liability in such situations. It is not denied that aerial spraying through helicopters and manual pumping caused damage to plant and animal life, killed hundreds and to thousands being born with genetic problems which has led to their leading lives of untold misery.
The Plantation Corporation of Kerala is the polluter and they should bear the costs of compensation to the families of those who died and rehabilitation and treatment of the unfortunate surviviors. The entire assets of the Corporation should be utilised for this.
In such a grave offence it is important that criminal liability be established. The officers and directors of the Company who conducted aerial spraying whould be made to stand criminal trial.They are guilty of 'culpable homicide not amounting to murder', a charge the CBI is now trying to invoke against the accused in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Case.
The Officials of the Plantation Corporation can only be compared to Nazis who killed Jews in gas chambers. They deserve no mercy or repreive. To facilitate payment of compensation and fixing of criminal liability, the Government should enact a special legislation.
To let the guilty go scot free is to render meaningless the values and ideals that the people of this country hold dear to their heart.