Toxic Farming

Why in news?

Union ministry of agriculture has banned use of 18 pesticide.

AnupamVerma Committee:

The AnupamVerma Committee, set up to review the continued use of 66 pesticides that have been barred/restricted for use in farming in other countries

  1. Recommendeda ban on 13 extremely hazardous pesticides.
  2. Phasing outof six moderately hazardous ones by 2020.
  3. Comiitee gave a list of 27 pesticides to be reviewed again in 2018
  4. The Committee further recommended continuation of ban on 1 pesticide and did not offer any assessment of a pesticide which is currently sub judice(Endosulfan).

Need of Regulation of Pesticides:

There are various harmful effects of pesticides as listed below:

  1. Indiscriminate and excessive use of toxic synthetic pesticides damages environment and agriculture. Further, when it enters the food chain it impacts all living beings
  2. The agro-ecosystem which includes the micro and macro flora and fauna are adversely affected due to pesticide use
  3. Agro-chemicals like pesticide, herbicide, and insecticides flow into groundwater, soil and surface water and contaminate the environment
  4. Pesticides residues in crops/vegetables/fruits pose danger to human health and may lead to gastro-intestinal diseases, respiratory diseases, skin diseases and are also carcinogenic. For example: In Rajasthan health impacts have been reported due to pesticide contaminated green vegetables
  5. Impact on trade: Indian consignments of agricultural commodities like tea, and cashew kernels have been rejected due to chemical contamination and presence of pesticide residues by European countries.

Safety and Regulatory Issues:

  • Pesticides are categorised as hazardous materials however, in most of the areas safety gear for the handlers is non-existent and emergency medical aid is lacking
  • Advice on the use of pesticides is given by the seller, who naturally has commercial interests in mind. Besides, there is little government monitoring of usage of pesticides. This has lead to indiscriminate and improper use of pesticides and resultant occupational hazards for farmers.

Deficiencies in Insecticides Act, 1968

Major loopholes which needed to be addressed:

  • Lack of clarity on qualification for manufactures, sellers, stockists and commercial pest-control operators
  • Poor representation of experts in the Central Pesticides Board and the Registration Committee
  • Fixing tolerance limits of pesticides as a pre-condition of their registration
  • It also does not explicitly recognise environmental hazards of pesticides further, it does not mention how the adverse effects of pesticides can be minimised on water, soil, air and non-target organisms.
    • According to the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management, when a pesticide is known to be highly hazardous, the farmer must go for a non-chemical alternative. However, Insecticides Act does not follow the regulations.
  • The International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides stipulates a range of conditions for the use of pesticides. The Insecticides Act does not allow for these regulations.

Draft Pesticide Management Bill, 2017

The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare had put forward the Pesticides Management Bill, 2017 for public feedback in March 2018

The objectives of the bill are:

  1. To ensure the availability of quality pesticides.
  2. To prevent or minimize the contamination of agricultural commodities from the pesticide residue.
  3. To create an awareness among the farmers and other users of pesticides about its safe and judicious use.

Key Highlights:

  • Regulate all pesticides, not just those insecticides that appear in the Schedule of the 1968 Act;
  • Lay down a condition that every pesticide should have its expected performance disclosed and usage instructions included in its application for registration;
  • Lay down a further condition that no pesticide can be registered without its tolerance limits laid down under another statute on food safety;
  • Increase penalties for different kinds of offences: It states that “whoever uses or causes to use” a pesticide in contravention of its provisions is liable to be imprisoned or to pay a fine up to Rs 5 lakh.
  • Include a clause on segregation and disposal of pesticides
  • Expand the constitution of the Central Insecticides/Pesticides Board to include new departments and farmer representatives
  • Protection under the consumer protection act: The proposed bill provides for paying compensation to the affected farmers or users under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986
  • The draft also mandates state governments to report all cases of poisoning to the centre on a quarterly basis and states can also ban chemical pesticides for up to six months

Issues with the bill

  1. The Centre for Science and Environment has criticized the Bill for not following the global standards which provide for the regulation of pesticides by the health ministry and not the agriculture ministry.
  2. According to Pesticide Action Network (PAN) India has criticised the bill for not being comprehensive. The Bill does not incorporate provisions of price control, knowledge-based, participatory and sustained monitoring of toxicity and impacts.
  3. The bill does not have provisions for ensuring transparency of registration
  4. It has also been alleged that the bill ignores the ground realities of sale and consumption of agrichemicals- It ignores the economic and ecological crisis in Indian agriculture
  5. Another issue with the Bill has been ambiguity in definitions.
  • The Bill does not clearly define agrochemical which is a broader term which covers herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. Critics are of the opinion that this would lead to confusion about the scope of the bill among farmers and regulatory officers
  • The Bill has not defined the term “users”. The ambiguity in definition has raised fears that ill-informed farmers and agricultural workers could be prosecuted under the bill

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Recommendations for improvement in the Bill

  1. Regulation should be with the health ministry, not agriculture ministry as it is driven by productivity motive.
  2. The objective of the bill should be to minimise pesticide usage and not about producing safer pesticides. A preamble should say pesticide use is not sustainable.
  3. The bill should also include sustainability as its aim.
  4. State governments must have a greater role in case of decision making on pesticide management. The existing draft provides inadequate representation to states in both pesticide board and the registration committee.
  5. Ban pesticide promotion.

Steps to be taken:

  1. There should be extensive research on environment friendly pest control mechanisms and these when developed should be propagated largely
  2. Addressing the economic and ecological crisis in agriculture should be the cornerstone in agrichemical management
  3. Since pesticides have become an important tool in modern agriculture, measures should be taken to minimize its impacts. This can be achieved with minimum use of pesticides using accurate diagnosis and advanced knowledge of pest problems
  4. Farmers should be well informed about the procedure of using pesticides. Measures should be taken to negate the risk of potential hazard during its use
  5. Alternative and more sustainable agricultural practices such as organic farming, zero farming should be promoted. However, the economic and ecological viability of such alternate methods should be kept in mind
  6. There should be a broader framework to address interrelated problems of farming, food, environment, and health and not just agrichemical regulation
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