There is nothing worse than not being heard, there is nothing more disappointing than not being seen, there is nothing that hurts more than not being considered as citizens of a State. This is not the story of people from South Africa or Latin America or from any country engulfed in civil war, but this is the plight of the forgotten people living in a panchayat of Kazargode district in North Kerala.
They are the victims of indiscriminate use of hazardous pesticides by a public sector organization called Plantation Corporation of Kerala. The aerial spraying of the pesticide called Endosulphan in 12000 acres of Cashew plantation has pushed the people of this village to a life full of sufferings and miseries. The ‘poison rain ‘ which had continued for nearly 25 years was stopped only in 2001 by a court intervention. Even though, the use of banned pesticides had stopped, the ordeal of impoverished people residing in Enmagaje Panchayat of Kazargode district still continues without any change. In this Panchayat alone more than 10,000 people majority teenagers, have been suffering from congenital blindness, deafness, dumbness and many other medical disorders, due to the incessant use of Endosulphan.
Actually speaking, the struggle of Endosulphan victims is a never ending protest in the history of Kerala. Every successive Government, since 2001 has turned it’s back on these hapless victims’ demand for compensation and rehabilitation. This is the story of betrayal of trust by the democratic Governments and efforts for survival by the people who were abandoned by their own Government and victimised by the inhuman attitude of a Public sector company and a pesticide manufacturer.
Most of victims of the ‘Poison rain’ had died over the years without much help or solace from the Government and the survivors are now leading a life of struggle which is pathetic.
The most astonishing thing is that the sisyphean burden and screaming of Kasargode has not touched the conscience of Kerala society and the Government. Uncontrolled use of banned pesticide is rampant in Kerala. Agriculture sectors, includi ng Palakkad, Alappuzha (Kuttanad), Idikki, Wayanad and Kannur are the worst affected districts. A study conducted by the Kerala Agricultural University a few years ago, has revealed that the water bodies of Kuttanad farm sector has been highly polluted with pesticides and weedicides. The pesticides like Malathion, Endosulphan etc. are being used in the area without any monitoring. The presence of coliform bacteria in the rivers and ponds of Kuttanad are much above the permitted level.
Considering the ecological peculiarities of Kuttanad ,we can’t completely avoid the use of pesticides there. The spread of water hyacinth, algae and many other weeds not only upsets ecological system of the region but also causes the onset of many diseases. The effort of the district administration to implement an organic, scientific and successful method for the eradication of water hyacinth has reached nowhere. A proposal for the development of value added products from unwanted weeds like water hyacinth has been lying asleep in the Government files. A balanced and scientific method or a well established protocol for the use of permitted pesticides and weedicides is the only solution to this problem.
In Palakkad district, insecticides including banned brands are flowing through Menakshipuram without any check. In Meenakshipuram pesticides and weedicides are easily available at reduced rates. There are a lot of middle men in this area who supply powerful pesticides to plantain farmers .
Two men had died a few weeks ago after reportedly spraying pesticides in a paddy field at Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta district. Even this tragedy has not opened the eyes of the Agriculture department authorities. Not only in Kerala’s farming sector, the indiscriminate use of pesticides is prevalent in neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka also. The contaminated vegetables and fruits are entering the state through various check posts without any monitoring mechanisms. There are hardly any inspections either by Food Safety department authorities or by Agriculture department authorities to evaluate the quantity of chemicals in the vegetables in the shops or markets .
Actually, the Agriculture department which is supposed to take action to curb the pesticide menace remains as a silent spectator. As per the agriculture department’s instruction, the pesticides having red and yellow labels should be sold only on Agricultural Officers’ prescription. The stockists and shop owners are not authorised to sell yellow and red labeled pesticides directly. The stockists have to show the details of pesticides, which they are selling, in a notice board out side the store. But these instructions are not followed anywhere and the Agriculture department hardly has any system to ensure the observance of these guidelines.
The pesticide content in vegetables above the permissible limit causes a lot of health problems to the people. A couple of years ago the state Agriculture department had launched a programme for the cultivation of pesticide free vegetables in Kerala. But the reckless use of pesticides and absence of an effective monitoring and regulatory mechanism are actually destroying the spirit of Governmental programmes.
Will cancel the licence- Minister
Minister for Agriculture Kerala, Mr. V.S.Sunilkumar has ordered his department officials to conduct periodic searches in all pesticide shops to find out whether they are selling the banned pesticides. He asked Agriculture Officers to conduct minimum two raids in a month to monitor the situation. The licences of those depots who are found violating the instructions of Agriculture department will be suspended. The erring Officers will also be punished, the Minister cautioned. ‘ Due to stringent action, the department is able to curb this menace to a great extent,’ Sunilkumar added.