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Two farm labourers in Pathanamthitta were spraying pesticide on paddy fields after which they had to be admitted in a hospital on Friday.

Did pesticide exposure kill two farm labourers in Kerala Representational image
news Death Sunday, January 20, 2019 - 18:10

In a shocking incident that has come to light in the Kerala, two farm labourers died in Pathanamthitta on Saturday, allegedly due to pesticide exposure. The deceased are Sanal Kumar (42) and Mathai Esho (68), who collapsed after spraying pesticides in paddy fields at Alamthuruthi in Peringara, near Thiruvalla. While the cause of death is yet to be asserted after the autopsy report, agricultural experts strongly believe that this is a case of poisoning due to pesticide.

Sanal and Mathai were spraying the pesticides on Friday and had to be admitted in Government hospital Changanassery after they started vomiting and showed diarrhea-like symptoms. It is assumed that the labourers sprayed excess of an insecticide called ‘Virat’, perhaps ingesting or inhaling some in the process, which ultimately proved fatal.

The post mortem was conducted at the Government Medical College in Kottayam and the report is expected to be out on Sunday.

Meanwhile, three other farm labourers, who also felt uneasy after spraying the pesticide, have been admitted at Government hospital Changanassery.

The death of Sanal and Mathai exposes how vulnerable farm labourers are while they take up pesticide spraying and reflects the need for authorities to monitor the risks and unadvisable usage of pesticides.

“We can’t say that both the farm labourers died because of the pesticide exposure. But in the case of one, it seems almost confirmed. We are awaiting the post mortem report,” an official from the Pathanamthitta Agriculture Department said.

The farm labourers used ‘Virat’, a pesticide using for vegetables and cotton and not one recommended for paddy. The labourers who survived it say that they mixed a powder with Virat before spraying. But they don’t reveal what the powder is. It is likely that the farmers, not the agricultural labourers, bought the powder from an unauthorised outlet, making the mix toxic,” Joyce K Koshi, Assistant  Director of Agriculture told TNM.

“Also, the allowed ratio of the pesticide is 2 ml in a 5-6 ml of water as the pesticide is strong one. It is learnt that the farm labourers were inebriated while spraying it. If that was the case, they may have sprayed a high dose of pesticide in their drunken condition,” Joyce added.

The officer also revealed that there are at least 3,000 paddy fields in the panchayat, and while there are some farmers who adhere to the limits on pesticide usage set by the Agriculture Department, there are others who flout the norms and use double or even triple the quantity.

“Farmers use pesticides in excess thinking it will kill insects more easily. The labourers are hired on a contract and are paid according to the area of crop they have sprayed pesticide in, or by the numbers of plants they have sprayed.  But pesticides shouldn’t be sprayed continuously from morning to evening as it can also prove harmful for labourers,” Joyce explained.

Usha Soolapani, an environmentalist and farmer, remarked that farmers are in the habit of using chemical pesticides though alternatives are available. “There are outlets for selling chemical pesticides in all panchayats. And though it is mandatory that the pesticides be sold with prescription of agricultural officers, I am not sure how well this is followed and implemented. Farmers are addicted for pesticide use.”

Usha says that the Agriculture Department needs to step up and contribute to popularising organic pesticides. “Agriculture department and universities should make an equal effort as us to campaign for organic alternatives and train the farmers in using them. Today, if 100 farmers are trained for organic pesticide use, only two end up implementing it. So there is a need for the department to be consistent, comprehensive and effective in their efforts to address this,” she added. 

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