A 31-year-old farmer from Ariyalur district allegedly died last month due to exposure to pesticides. There have been five such deaths in the last two months in Perambalur and Ariyalur districts and activists and farmers are demanding a ban on pesticides by the Central government.
“My brother-in-law was using pesticides for the last 10 years for the Bt cotton crop. On November 26, he began to have diarrhea and excessive vomiting, we took him to a government hospital next day morning and he passed away in few hours. The doctors had told us that it was due to excessive exposure to the pesticide,” Manoharan, a farmer from Ariyalur district told TNM.
However, he added that no post-mortem was conducted. “Another relative was there with my brother-in-law and he did not have any idea that a post-mortem should have been conducted and the doctors never asked us also,” said Manoharan.
“Sadly”, he added, “Farmers in Ariyalur continue to use the pesticides. We still use pesticides but now some are more careful about it.”
The five people who have allegedly died due to exposure to pesticides are Raja, Selvam, Arjunan and Ramalingam from Perambalur district and Raman from Ariyalur district. They all have died in the months of October and November. According to a fact finding committee, it is estimated that at least 200 to 300 persons have been hospitalized in the past few months after exposure to deadly pesticides.
“Earlier, the farmers in Perambalur and Ariyalur districts were cultivating crops like millets and groundnuts but about 10 years ago, they shifted to Bt cotton, a genetically modified crop. They started using pesticides and with each passing year, the use of pesticides also increased,” says Saravanan from People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
Mainly, three pesticides are being used by the farmers. Monocrotophos, Acephate and Profenophos which are organophosphate insecticides and are harmful to humans. “Monocrotophos, the pesticide has been banned in more than 60 countries but in India, it is still being used by farmers. When the government cannot regulate the usage of these pesticides, it should ban it. Many of the farmers are desperate to get increased yield because they have invested so much into it,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of ASHA.
According to the report, Monocrotophos has been banned in 60 countries, Profenophos in 28 countries and Acephate in 10 countries.
A 10-member fact finding team consisting of Kavitha Kuruganti, ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture), Ananthoo and Parthasarthy from Safe Food Alliance, K Balakrishnan from Swaraj Abhiyan, Saravanan from PUCL, Ramesh Karuppaiya from ThamizhKadu, Swaminathan from Karuganni Cotton Grower’s Group, S Nandakumar from Ullatchi Ungalatchi, N Ganesan and V Vetrivel, Barefoot Academy of Governance, carried out a detailed documentation of five death cases, and five other cases where pesticide poisoning affected persons were hospitalised and discharged after treatment from December 4-6, 2017.
According to the report, out of the 10 cases admitted in a private hospital in Perambalur during October and November, 2017 of patients affected by pesticide poisoning, it is reported that all of them had sprayed monocrotophos along with other pesticides, in mixtures.
Moreover, the families of the deceased told the fact-finding team that there has been high incidence of different kinds of bollworms attacking their crop, forcing them to spray pesticides for long hours.
The report also stated that sprayers try to spray about 25 to 30 tanks per day, to maximise on their earnings as well as to cater to greater demand for pest control from farmers who are frightened about crop losses.
The report also alleged that no senior officials have taken up inquiry in these cases. TNM tried contacting an official from the Agriculture department in Perambalur district but he was inaccessible.
However, the activists want the government to access and monitor the situation. “We want the government to provide a relief of Rs. 2 lakhs to the families who had to go through medical treatment and Rs. 10 lakhs to the deceased families,” said Ananthoo.
The activists also want the government to take up a comprehensive review of the performance of Bt cotton in Tamil Nadu, to review patient treatment protocols especially in government hospitals and prevent recurrence by stopping the license of sales of all ‘bannable’ pesticides and make the pesticide industries accountable for the impact on environment and human health.
“Stopping of sale licenses on deadly pesticides has been done by neighbouring state government, Kerala. Why cannot Tamil Nadu do the same?” asked the activists.