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   Friday, February 22, 2019
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Can we afford to forget Bhopal?
By Pandurang Hegde

It seems India has forgotten the painful lessons of the Bhopal disaster, as the pesticides usage is on the rise even at the cost of people's health.

Killers of these innocent people still remain at large

It was on the night of December 2nd and early morning of 3rd, 1984 the world was shocked by the dark side of pesticides industry. The disaster in Union Carbide unit in Bhopal led to death of over 4000 people, and it had impacted about 558000 people. The survivors are still waiting for the justice and the government is debating as how to clean the poisoned surroundings of the plant. Apart from these concerns that stand unresolved for the last three decades, the pertinent question is whether the country has learnt any lessons?

Unfortunately after this disaster our agricultural policies have pushed the farmers into a deeper pesticides trap. We boast of record food grain production of 250 million tonnes every year. We also claim to be the second biggest producer of vegetables and fruits. However, we rarely question as how this record productions have been achieved. How much of pesticides and insecticides have been used to produce these crops?

The consumption of pesticides in India has seen a drastic increase from 154 tonnes in 1954 to 88000 tonnes in 2001 and 56000 tonnes in 2009-10. Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the food bowl of India are the highest consumer of pesticides in the country. The Government has accepted in Lok Sabha that it has allowed the import of 67 pesticides that are banned in other countries.

It is estimated that almost 90 percent of the pesticides fail to reach the targeted insect or pest and they eventually end up in our soil and water bodies. They also get into our food chain and enter human bodies, leading to diseases like cancer.

There are oblivious indications that the indiscriminate use of pesticides is leading to adverse impact on the farmers, farm labourers as well as the consumers. It is estimated that almost 90 percent of the pesticides fail to reach the targeted insect or pest and they eventually end up in our soil and water bodies. They also get into our food chain and enter human bodies, leading to diseases like cancer.

According to FAO ( Food and Agricultural Organization) the effects of pesticides has consequences for entire food chain leading to causes of cancer, tumours, reproductive inhibition or failure, suppression of immune system, cellular DNA damage and adverse impact on aquatic life and birds.

A study conducted by Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment found that the daily intake of pesticides presents ‘a horrific picture’. An average adult was consuming more pesticides than medically permissible. It was about 376 percent of DDT, 300 percent of monocrotophos, and in children it was still higher at 622 percent!

These facts show that the food and vegetables that we eat is not only unsafe but it is bound to cause health disorders in human bodies. Obviously, the politicians and policy makers have sacrificed the health of common citizens as well as those of the future generation at the cost of providing food security.

Ironically the pesticide lobby has successfully invaded the farmer’s fields and minds. We have come to a situation in which a farmer practicing agriculture in irrigated Gangetic plain or in a remote hill village in Himalayas is forced to use pesticides to grow staple rice, wheat or vegetables and fruits. Farmers have been brainwashed to think that it is impossible to grow any crop without using pesticides.

In order to get out of the pesticide trap the farmers were given the new technological bullets in form of GM crops, the Bt cotton. Though it promised reduction in use of pesticides, in the long run the pests have become resistant to Bt seeds and there is risk of increased pesticides usage to grow cotton.

These developments indicate that rather than learning from Bhopal, the country is deeply entrenching itself into the clutches of pesticide giants. In recent years we have been witnessing the enactment of Bhopal at numerous places across the country. Suicides by thousands of farmers expose the limits of pesticide driven industrial agriculture.

We have come to a situation in which a farmer practicing agriculture in irrigated Gangetic plain or in a remote hill village in Himalayas is forced to use pesticides to grow staple rice, wheat or vegetables and fruits.

Nevertheless, there are attempts to find alterative ways to produce food through organic farming. The states of Uttaranchal and Sikkim have declared themselves as ‘Organic States’ assuring to produce food without pesticides. Similarly in Karnataka ‘Organic Farming Missions’ have been formed to propagate organic farming methods.

Though proactive, these methods are symbolic in nature and have minimal impact on the overall agricultural scenario. Most of the time the state and central governments are closely linked to the powerful pesticide lobby, who are able to bribe officials and politicians to maintain their stronghold.

The push for record food production with overemphasis on quantity rather than quality has had adverse impact on the common people. This has already created large number of diabetic population earning us the dubious distinction of ‘diabetic capital of world’. May be, we will get an additional title of ‘Cancer Capital’ if we continue to grow our crops using the pesticides indiscriminately. The high number of cancer patients reported in Punjab is a clear indicator of where our food bowls are heading for.

Before it is too late, it is essential that the government wakes up to the impact of pesticides on present and future generations. India needs to learn from the Bhopal tragedy and find ways to salvage the health of its people, and stop contamination of the basic capitals of mankind, the soil and water.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Pandurang Hegde  |  appiko@gmail.com

Pandurang Hegde is a farmer, environmentalist and writer based in Sirsi town in Karnataka. He is well known for launching the Appiko movement which played a key role in protecting many forests from the axe in the Western Ghats region.

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