India’s abysmal management of pesticides has started taking a deadly toll – says Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Over 35 farmers have reportedly died and hundreds have become ill due to pesticide poisoning in several districts of Vidharba region in Maharashtra, since July this year. These incidents have been reported from the districts of Yavatmal, Nagpur, Akola and Amravati where farm workers died due to inhalation of toxic pesticides while spraying it on the fields.
“The death of farmers in Maharashtra due to pesticide poisoning is because of the gross negligence in pesticide management in the country. This negligence has led to pesticide poisoning becoming a chronic problem in the country. Every year, there are about 10,000 reported cases of pesticide poisoning in India. In 2015, about 7,000 people died because of accidental intake of insecticides/pesticides. The Ministry of Agriculture at the Centre and agricultural departments of the states are solely responsible for the unsafe use of pesticides in the country. Deaths and illnesses due to pesticides can be avoided if we can urgently fix some of the crucial gaps in our regulations and improve its enforcement,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE.
In Maharashtra, pesticides such as Monocrotophos, Oxydemeton-methyl, Acephate and Profenophos are believed to be responsible for the deaths and illness. Pesticides like Monocrotophos and Oxydemeton-methyl are considered class I pesticides by the World Health Organization (WHO), which are further categorised into extremely hazardous (class Ia) and highly hazardous (class Ib). The classification is based on acute toxicity of pesticide active ingredient and since class I pesticides can be fatal at a very low dose, many of these are banned in several countries. Monocrotophos is banned in 60 countries, Phorate in 37, Triazophos in 40 and Phosphamidon is banned in 49 countries. But India still allows the use of these pesticides.
In fact, there are 18 class I pesticides allowed to be used in the country. In 2015-16, of the 7,717 tonnes of pesticides (technical grade) used in the country, 2,254 tonnes were class I pesticides (about 30 per cent of total pesticides). As per the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management, jointly released by FAO and WHO, “pesticides whose handling and application require the use of personal protective equipment that is uncomfortable, expensive or not readily available should be avoided, especially in the case of small-scale users and farm workers in hot climates”. All class I pesticides require the use of personal protective equipment that is impossible to use by small-scale farmers and farm workers in India. On this basis itself, class I pesticides should have been banned in India long ago, say CSE researchers.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare, based on a 2015 review by the Anupam Verma Committee, plans to ban only three out of these 18 pesticides starting 2018. The committee had reviewed only 11 out of the 18 pesticides and had proposed to prohibit use of another four, but only after several years — starting 2021.
“While India urgently needs to address pesticide mismanagement from several aspects, the most urgent step needed is to ban use of class I pesticides. The recommendations of the Verma committee is inadequate and the government actions so far is not in line with the urgency and scale of the problem,” said Amit Khurana, senior programme manager for food safety and toxins, CSE.
Approval and enforcement issues
CSE, over the last several years, has highlighted gaps in pesticide management in the country. There is a major problem with the way pesticides are approved for use in the country. There is even a bigger problem of enforcement. Unapproved off-label use of pesticides continues to be a big problem in India along with unsafe application of pesticide by farmers.
A 2013 CSE review of 11 important crops in India — wheat, paddy, apple, mango, potato, cauliflower, black pepper, cardamom, tea, sugarcane and cotton — showed that the pesticide recommendations made by state agriculture universities, agriculture departments and other boards for a crop do not adhere to the pesticides that the Central Insecticides Board and Registered Committee (CIBRC) has registered for those crops. The agriculture universities, departments and boards have recommended many pesticides that have not been registered for some crops. For example, in case of wheat the states of Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh recommended 11, 5 and 9 pesticides which were not registered by the CIBRC.
“Till we reform our pesticides regulations and regulatory institutions, pesticide poisoning and accidental deaths would continue. A Pesticide Management Bill was introduced in the Parliament in 2008 but it was allowed to be lapsed. We need a new Pesticide Management Bill to address the issues related to unsafe use of pesticides,” said Chandra Bhushan.
- Based on acute toxicity, pesticide active ingredients are categorized as extremely hazardous (class Ia), highly hazardous (class Ib), moderately hazardous (class II), slightly hazardous (class III), unlikely to present acute hazard in normal use (class U)
- As on date, there are 18 class I pesticides registered for use in India. These include:
- Class Ia: Bromadiolone (rodenticide), Methyl Parathion, Phorate, Phosphamidon
- Class Ib: Beta Cyfluthrin, Carbofuran, Coumatetralyl (rodenticide), Cyfluthrin, Dichlorvos (DDVP), Edifenphos, Methomyl, Monocrotophos, Oxydemeton-Methyl, Propetamphos, Sodium Cyanide, Thiometon, Triazophos and Zinc Phosphide (rodenticide)
- Only 11 out of 18 Class I pesticides were reviewed in 2015 by the committee chaired by Dr Anupam Verma, former professor at Indian Agricultural Research Institute
- Based on its recommendations, the ministry of agricultural and farmer’s welfare in Dec 2016 issued a draft notification to ban three pesticides from 2018: Methyl Parathion, Sodium cyanide and Thiometon
- The committee had also recommended banning four of these 11 pesticides from 2021: Dichlorvos (DDVP), Phorate, Phosphamidon, Triazophos. This is despite recognising that these are already banned, restricted or withdrawn in several countries
- Citing unavailability of data, the committee decided to review three pesticides in 2018: Carbofuran, Methomyl, Monocrotophos
- Allowed one to be used under supervision: Zinc phosphide
- Few examples of class I pesticides allowed for use in India but banned in other countries:
- Monocrotophos: Banned in 60 countries including the European Union
- Dichlorvos: Banned in 32 countries including the European Union
- Triazophos: Banned in 40 countries including the European Union
- Phosphamidon: Banned in 49 countries including the European Union
- Carbofuran: Banned in 49 countries including the European Union
- Phorate: Banned in 37 countries including the European Union
- Methomyl: Banned in 13 countries
- Several class I pesticides have been heavily used in India over the last many years. In 2015-16, their consumption as per the data of ministry of agriculture and farmer’s welfare was:
- Monocrotophos -371 MT (Metric Tonne), Triazophos – 315 MT, Phosphamidon – 90 MT, Carbofuran -337 MT; Phorate -455 MT; Methyl Parathion – 674 MT
- As per the National Crimes Records Bureau, in 2014 there were 7,365 cases of poisoning due to accidental intake of insecticides/pesticides, out of which 5,915 died. In 2015, 7,060 deaths were reported out of 7,672 cases.