Home >Industry >Agriculture >Agriculture ministry proposal to ban 27 pesticides faces resistance

NEW DELHI : An agriculture ministry proposal to ban a set of widely used pesticides has kicked up a storm, with the chemicals ministry opposing the ban, and advocacy groups supporting it, citing cases of pesticide poisoning.

On 14 May, the agriculture ministry issued a draft order banning the manufacture and sale of the 27 pesticides “likely to involve risk to human beings and animals". One reason behind the ban was that manufacturers did not submit complete data on resurgence of pests, toxicity and bio-efficacy. The order followed an expert committee report of December 2015.

On 2 June, the chemicals department wrote to the agriculture ministry that a “sudden ban" will not only render “investments (by the industry) wasteful, but also cause loss of export earnings for India".

The Association for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), a farm policy advocacy group, entered the dispute on Thursday, accusing the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers of “acting as a partisan front of the industry" at the cost of the “right to life" of agricultural labourers and farmers.

On the list of 27 molecules, which are proposed to be banned is monocrotophos, a widely used “red-triangle" pesticide (extremely toxic), which is banned in 112 countries, including the European Union, the UK, Brazil and China.

In 2017, several cases of death and poisoning by monocrotophos were reported in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.

Malathion, labelled as a “blue-triangle" (moderately toxic) pesticide, and currently used to counter locust swarms, also figures on the list.

“There is no reason for the agriculture ministry to ban blue- and green-triangle pesticides, which are relatively safe. The ban will impact emergency control of invasive pests, such as locusts, and widespread use of fungicides (such as thiram) for seed treatment," said Bhagirath Choudhary, founder director, South Asia Biotechnology Centre. “The 27 generic molecules are used to manufacture more than 130 formulations. They cannot be suddenly banned."

Following representations from the pesticides industry, the agriculture ministry lifted the ban on the export of these molecules on 10 June. It also extended the date to submit comments on the draft order by three months, from the 45 days mandated earlier.

“The agriculture ministry took a hasty decision. The industry has already submitted 80% of the required data and we are working closely with the ministry on filling the remaining gaps," said Rajesh Aggarwal, managing director, Insecticides India Ltd.

According to Aggarwal, allowing only the export of the 27 molecules will erode the industry’s global competence in the generics market. Currently, India’s pesticide industry registers annual sales of 400 billion, with half the revenues coming from exports.

“We are hopeful that following discussions with the ministry, we will be able to save most of the 27 molecules. This will benefit small and marginal farmers in India who depend on cheaper generic pesticides," Aggarwal said.

Activists pressing for the ban, however, argued that at least 17 of the 27 molecules did not undergo any bio-safety assessment and were “deemed to be registered" when India introduced the Insecticides Act in 1968. “If data to prove the safety of these pesticides are available, it should be put out in the public domain for independent scientific scrutiny," said Kavitha Kuruganti, co-convener, ASHA.

“Short-term profits for the industry cannot be the reason to take away the right to life of agricultural workers and farmers, or to do irreparable harm to the environment," Kuruganti added

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