New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday came close to ordering a temporary ban on the production of endosulfan across the country, but postponed its decision till Friday after a group of manufacturers asked to be heard.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation that sought a blanket ban on the chemical after reports suggested that its use could have caused a range of genetic, reproductive and developmental disorders.
Endosulfan is sprayed on all major crops such as vegetables, cotton, pulses and rice to combat pests such as whitefly, leafhoppers, aphids and cabbage worms, without harming insects such as bees that help in pollination.
Several reports have indicated the insecticide was responsible for causing diseases, especially in parts of Kerala and Karnataka where it was widely used. Scientific studies have also established that the chemical is bioaccumlative, meaning that it doesn’t decompose even after entering the food chain.
“Why should we not ban the manufacture of endosulfan by government and private producers?” Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia asked the government.
The Union government’s response that it was forming a committee to study the effects of the chemical did not find favour with the bench, especially after it told the court that its two earlier committees had failed to conclusively find any correlation between endosulfan use and dangers to human life. A third committee could only establish if aerial spraying of endosulfan was not desirable, the government said.
The court also hit out at the government on finding that one of the largest producers of endosulfan in the country was a public sector company, Hindustan Insecticides Ltd.
“All these years you could not find out anything? You are making investments in these units. Don’t you find out before doing these things?” the bench asked the government counsel Gopal Subramanium.
India caters to 70% of the world’s endosulfan needs—a market valued at $300 million (Rs 1,341 crore), Mint reported on 30 March. Of the 9,000 tonnes India produces every year, half is bought by its 75 million farmers, making the country the world’s largest consumer of endosulfan.
Much of the chemical is used by farmers with small and marginal holdings, because endosulfan is cheap—at Rs 286 per kg—and has a broad spectrum of effects.
Kapadia said that since the case was at an initial stage of hearing, the court would order a temporary ban, which could be lifted later if the concerns were allayed.
“Today, at the ad interim stage, if we don’t pass an order (banning endosulfan) it may lead to damage. After two months when the studies come, we can lift the ban. If we allow you to manufacture and later on we find that it is harmful we cannot turn the clock backwards,” said the court, indicating it would ban production of the chemical subject to hearing the manufacturers, who have sought time till Friday.
The government initially submitted that it was complying with an 11-year commitment to phase out endosulfan, as prescribed under the Stockholm Convention, a global treaty to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals. But with the court keen to place the burden of proving the chemical safe on the government’s shoulders, it suggested the creation of another committee on Wednesday.