The Ministry of Agriculture issued a draft order, ‘Banning of Insecticides Order, 2020’, in May this year which prohibits the manufacture, sale, and use of 27 pesticides in India as they were likely to involve risk to human being and animals. The list includes pesticides which have been banned in the European Union, like Monocrotophos which has been classified by WHO as highly hazardous.
The pesticide is banned in 122 countries and was also found to have led to the pesticides poisoning deaths of farmers in Maharashtra. Methomyl and Carbofuran have also been labelled as extremely toxic by WHO. Even Malathion and Chloropyriphos which are used to counter locust infestations as per the Ministry’s contingency plan, are part of the list.
The Anupam Verma committee recommended the ban on the 27 pesticides
The ban on the 27 pesticides follows from the Anupam Verma Committee Report constituted in 2013 to review 66 insecticides that were banned or restricted in other countries but continue to be registered for domestic use in India. The committee has cited ‘Required data not submitted’ as one of the reasons behind the ban of some of the pesticides in the list. Availability of alternatives has also been considered. In 2016, in a similar move, the Verma committee recommended a ban on 18 pesticides which came into effect from 2018.
PMFAI claims that the move would lead to a loss of Rs. 6000 crores
Most of the pesticides in the list are those which are commonly used by the farmers for a long time. The proposed ban has been opposed by Pesticides Manufacturers & Formulators Association of India (PMFAI) as per news reports, as the ban would result in a loss up to Rs. 6000 crores. It further added that these generic pesticide formulations which are proposed to be banned were affordable as it costs between Rs. 350 to Rs. 450 per litre. As per PMFAI, the price of the alternatives can be as high as Rs. 1,200 to Rs. 2,000 per litre. Meanwhile, environmentalists and civil society welcome the ban since these pesticides are toxic for people, aquatic life, animals, and the environment.
Insecticides Act, 1968 governs the use of insecticides in India
The use, sale, manufacture, import, export, transportation, and distribution of insecticides or pesticides is governed by the Insecticides Act, 1968. Under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, the farmer as a consumer can claim compensation for losses.
As on 30 June 2020, 273 pesticides are registered for use in India with and without restrictions. A total of 746 formulations are registered in the country. Only 71 formulation of combination pesticides is approved, that is, mixing of different pesticides should be done in a specified ratio as given in the list. Similar restrictions are listed for herbicides and fungicides as well. At the same time, 40 pesticides are banned in India for manufacture, import, and use including Endosulfan which was used in cashew plantations and is alleged to have led to congenital deformities and even deaths in the Kasargod district of Kerala.
Captafol 80% Powder and Nicotine Sulfate are banned for use within the country but manufacture for export is permitted. Monocrotophos and Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane (commonly known as DDT) are among nine pesticides which have restrictions for domestic use in the country. For instance, Monocrotophos is banned for use on vegetables while the use of DDT for the domestic Public Health Programme is restricted up to 10,000 Metric Tonnes per annum, except in case of any major outbreak of epidemic.
Jammu and Kashmir has reported the highest consumption of pesticides per lakh hectares in 2015-16
We analysed data for the year 2015-16 and came up with state wise consumption of pesticides per lakh hectares. This has been calculated as the ratio of net pesticide consumption in metric tonnes to gross cropped area (in Lakh hectares). Gross cropped area is the total area sown once as well as more than once in a particular year. If a certain piece of land is sown twice a year, then the area is counted twice in the calculation of gross cropped area. The gross cropped area is considered here since the use of pesticides is for each batch of crops and not for the piece of land. The latest data on gross cropped area is available for all states only up to 2015-16.
The ratio for 2015-16 reveals that Jammu and Kashmir consumed the highest quantity of pesticides per lakh hectares followed by Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, and Himachal Pradesh. Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Rajasthan, Bihar, and Karnataka were among the lowest consumption states. However, it cannot be concluded that the consumption rate is still at the same levels since the area under cultivation in each state has changed compared to 2015-16 owing to multiple such as climate variability, farming techniques, availability of irrigation facilities & water and other technical factors which vary each year.
Maharashtra which accounts for the most farmer suicides, also tops consumption of pesticides
On the other hand, the net consumption of pesticides irrespective of area under cultivation is the highest in Maharashtra with over 11,746 MT consumed in 2018-19. Incidentally, Maharashtra also continues to report the highest number of suicides in the agricultural sector. Deliberate ingestion of pesticides is a common means of suicide in India and other developing countries.
Data suggests that in the last five years between 2014-15 and 2018-19, the net consumption of pesticides has gone up in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Jammu and Kashmir while it has reduced in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
Pesticides have harmful implications on environment, and human health
Pesticides are useful in getting rid of pests to ensure high yields and hence greater production. The chemicals act as a control on vector-borne diseases by killing the vectors. However, the negative impacts are in plenty as well.
Pesticides have resulted in deaths worldwide and even the reason for chronic diseases. Farmers and workers involved in the manufacturing of pesticides are the ones who are directly exposed to the toxic chemicals. The residue stuck to food grains and crop produce could be dangerous for consumers and can cause illnesses. The leakage of methyl isocyanate that claimed thousands of lives and continues to be reason congenital deformities among children in Bhopal is an example of the disastrous consequences of toxic chemicals. Cancer, neurological, cardiovascular, and respiratory diseases are among the health risks caused due to exposure to pesticides.
The impact on the environment also cannot be ignored. Contamination of water bodies- both surface and groundwater, is a major concern. Not only does this affect aquatic life, but microorganisms that play a vital role in maintaining a balance in the ecosystem are also killed. Other animals too fall prey to pesticides.
Like overuse of fertilizers, overuse of pesticides results in unbalanced pH level of soil and affects its fertility. Farmer suicides and corporate monopoly are some of the other issues linked to pesticides beyond the direct consequences on humans and environment. Globally, around 14% to 20% of suicides annually are due to self-poisoning using pesticides. The numbers were as high as 3.71 Lakh deaths every year in late 1990s. Bans and restrictions imposed by governments in the usage of highly hazardous pesticides have proved to be useful in reducing the number of suicides in many south Asian countries without affecting their agricultural output.
Promotion of bio-pesticides to check increased pesticide usage
In order to check the quality of pesticides, both central and state governments conduct inspections at regular intervals. The central government promotes sustainable agriculture and encourages the use of biopesticides through organic farming schemes of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) and Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Region (MOVCDNER). Educational programs are held for farmers to shift to eco-friendly products. ICAR and state agriculture universities are also working on developing biopesticides. However, the increased pesticide usage in some states indicates that a lot more needs to be done.