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Volume 1 No. 2, August 2011
International Journal of Science and Technology
©2010-11 IJST Journal. All rights reserved
http://www.ejournalofsciences.org
Pesticide Application and its Adverse Impact on Health:
Evidences from Kerala
C Tholkappian, S Rajendran
Department of Economics, Periyar University, Salem – 636 011
ABSTRACT
Indian agriculture has been under stress quite for long time. Decline in public investment, poor extension net work, lack of
marketing facilities, erratic input supply and others have all collectively contributed for decline or stagnant in Indian
agriculture. Increasing use of synthetic inputs and non-judicial use of natural resources including land and water have also
added the problem only to become worse. Now, there has been consistent attempt to either reduce the chemical inputs or
stop its use in agriculture for promoting sustainable agriculture system. The state-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala
(PCK) began dumping pesticides through aerial spraying each year in the 1970’s cashew plantations spread over 2,200
hectares in six gram panchayats of Padre village in Kasargod district. The continuous application of pesticides
contaminated the flora and fauna, the aquatic system underwent tremendous changes, and the local inhabitants suffer from
several problems. Initially PCK sprayed endrin and later switched to endosulfan, an organochlorine pesticide, which is
effective against a number of pests in cashew, cereals, oilseeds, vegetables, coffee and tea. This exposes people to diseases
like skin problems, cancer and lung complications. The severity of the matter came to light only when a new Delhi-based
NGO, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), tested blood samples from affected villagers. The centre has set up
the Pesticide Environment Pollution Advisory Committee under the union department of agriculture. However, the
Supreme Court has continued to observe public interest litigation on pesticides regarded as hazardous in developed
countries being dumped in developing countries including India. Proper assessment, rigorous monitoring and
environmental implications of synthetic chemicals should be ascertained will before allowing for large scale use. More
significantly, the long term implications on the human health and environment need to be studied scientifically for
sustainable development.
Keywords: Vegetable, human blood, live frog, cashew, cow milk, endosulfan, an organochlorine
I. INTRODUCTION
Across the world agriculture sector moving faster
from food provider to poisoning the environment, which is
a major threat to living organisms. Pesticide residues did
not spare the precious ‘mother’s milk’. When Rachel
Carson’s Silent Spring was published in 1962, many did
not believe her revelations on the effect of the dumping of
chemicals. Decades later, her findings are similar to the
happenings in the India’s highly literate state of Kerala.
Poor scientific research, ignorance, and a mindless
administration dumping poisonous pesticides have all
collectively caused irreparable damage to the
environment, and generated only paltry economic gains.
Developing countries are now becoming the dumping
ground yards for pesticides that have been banned in
developed countries. However, use of banned pesticides is
common in Indian agriculture, which is claiming precious
human lives.
Indian agriculture has been under stress quite for
long time. Decline in public investment, poor extension
net work, lack of marketing facilities, erratic input supply
and others have all collectively contributed for decline or
stagnant in Indian agriculture. Increasing use of synthetic
inputs and non-judicial use of natural resources including
land and water have also added the problem only to
become worse. Now, there has been consistent attempt to
either reduce the chemical inputs or stop its use in
agriculture for promoting sustainable agriculture system.
During the early years of political independence
the productivity of major crops in India was very low. The
first five year plan gave more attention to medium and
major irrigation projects to enhance the irrigated area for
improving agriculture sector. This has yielded some what
desirable results.
Coupled with economic planning
initiatives both the union and central governments have
taken serious note of the frequent famines and started
strengthening the agriculture sector. The cultivated area
centered on nearly 60 million ha. and productivity was low
during the early days of political independence.
The green revolution during mid 60’s has enabled
the country to expand the cultivable area to increase the
crop production and productivity. Intensive District
Agriculture Development Programme was introduced
initially and expanded this to other areas where the
resource endowments were storing. The results were:
irrigated area increased; HYV seeds were introduced;
chemical inputs were applied; intensity of land use
increased; credit network has been extended and extension
activities have been strengthened.
All these were
responsible for increasing the agriculture production and
productivity at least in some pockets like Punjab, Haryana,
Western Uttar Pradesh and some parts of south India. The
desired results were being witnessed. At least the
production and productivity of fine cereals have been
increased significantly.
56
Volume 1 No. 2, August 2011
International Journal of Science and Technology
©2010-11 IJST Journal. All rights reserved
http://www.ejournalofsciences.org
II. HIGHWAY MAP
III. CASE STUDY
Along side with the improving Indian agriculture
better infrastructure had been laid in rural areas. This has
facilitated to improve the performance of agriculture
sector. Besides crop husbandry, every attempt has been
made to improve the allied sector like animal husbandry,
fisherises and forests. Thus, the all-round attempt has
enabled to increase the farm productivity in India. This
has been in peak till mid 80’s. However, due to excessive
land use, non judicial use of synthetic inputs and
unscientific farm practices have all resulted in declining in
yield level or stagnant in it. Many reasons including the
low public sector investment and adverse impact of
chemical on agriculture have been referred as main
contributors for unsustainable agriculture. Immediately
after the introduction of green revolution packages during
six tees, crop production increased significantly thereby
the impact of grains has been stopped. However, nonjudicial input-factory made-use and unscientific methods
of agricultural practices resulted in declining in farm
production. Pesticide residues found in farm products
including vegetables and fruits raised alarms bells not only
to the policy makers but also to the farmers and
environmentalists. The recent revelations on the
application of banned pesticide endosulfan – on cashew
plantations in Kerala are raising many worries.
The state-owned Plantation Corporation of
Kerala (PCK) began dumping pesticides through aerial
spraying each year in the 1970’s cashew plantations
spread over 2,200 hectares in six gram panchayats of
Padre village in Kasargod district (Rajendran,2002). This
was done during fleshing, flowering and fruiting seasons
to combat pests. The continuous application of pesticides
contaminated the flora and fauna, the aquatic system
underwent tremendous changes, and the local inhabitants
suffer from several problems. Initially PCK sprayed
endrin and later switched to endosulfan, an organochlorine
pesticide, which is effective against a number of pests in
cashew, cereals, oilseeds, vegetables, coffee and tea. This
exposes people to diseases like skin problems, cancer and
lung complications. The severity of the matter came to
light only when a new Delhi-based NGO, the Centre for
Science and Environment (CSE), tested blood samples
from affected villagers, and came out with its shocking
findings (Table 1). One of the findings is that each
resident of Padre whose blood was tested has endosulfan
residues several hundred times the reside limit for water.
The tests also revealed that human and cow milk is not
spread either.
Table 1: Results on Endosulfan Residues in and around Padre Village
Sample
Water
Detected value
of Endosulfan
9.19
Maximum Residue
Limit(MRT)
0.18
Butter
14.00
NA
49.99
0.1
500
Cow’s milk
57.20
0.5
114
Vegetables
31.24
0.4-2.0
78-16
Human milk
22.40
Human blood
Live frog
196.47
10.35
Cashew
3.74
Spices
212.28
Fish
22.24
Soil
35.16
0.09
391
Cow’s
tissue
skin/fat
Number
of
Times
Value Exceeds MRL
51
Site/Source
of
Sample
The Kodenkiri stream
near Vaninagar
From the milk of cow
of Saletadka
From the abdominal
region of cow from
Padre
From a stall-fed cow
in Kumbdaje village
‘Basale”
leafy,
spinach
like
vegetables
from
Kajampady
Lalitha, 35, resident
of Kumbdaje village
Muthakka Shetty, 50
From a stream in
Kumbdaje
From the plantation
near Kajampady
Pepper bunch from
Kajampady
From a tank in
Kajampady
From Lalitha’s house
in Kumdaje
57
Volume 1 No. 2, August 2011
International Journal of Science and Technology
©2010-11 IJST Journal. All rights reserved
http://www.ejournalofsciences.org
Cashew leaves
6.52
From the heart of
Plantation at Periyal
Notes: 1 All figures in parts per million (PPM)
2 NA – MRL not available
Source: Down to Earth (2001)
Despite public awareness and high literacy levels
in Karalla, no serious action was taken except in a
piecemeal fashion and lip-service sympathy paid. Perhaps
PCK thought that income generated from the cashew
(including export) was more important than the
environmental loss. Nonetheless, this is also proved to be
a futile policy as cashew-importing western countries are
disfavoring cashew kernels contaminated by chemical
residues. There were reports that cashew to be shipped
from Cochin port was rejected by the US as the kernel had
pesticide residues above permissible limits. Realising this,
the Mangalore Cashew Manufactures Association is in
favour of stopping of aerial spraying of chemicals, due to
the likely impact on the export market. Otherwise, the
export of cashew Keralas will be severely affected.
Against this scenario, successful cases of
controlling pests in various crops including cashew
through eco-friendly plant based solutions instead of
synthetic chemical pesticides have been reported
(Rajendran 1998).
Leaves of errukkan (Calotropis
gigantica), marigold (Chrysanthemum cinearaefolium),
pongamia (Pongamia glabra), tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)
and neem (Azadirachta indica) have been used for
preparing liquid solutions to control pests: However, this
has been done on a trial and error basis, and hence state –
supported research institutions ought to pay attention
towards preparing eco-friendly pest repellents. These are
reputed as not only economical but also environment
friendly.
A few common pests like tea mosquito bug,
shoot and blossom webber, apple and nut borer and flower
and fruit thrips attract cashew trees during fleshing,
flowering and fruit-setting stages. Pest-infected fleshes
dry out and flowering is reduced, which leads to reducing
the quantum of fruit-setting. All these cause losses to the
cashew growers for which synthetic pesticides - mainly
endosulfan - are being recommended. Besides, stem - and
root borer attack the root and trunk system and this often
lead to trunk brittle for which less harmful tar and lime is
applied. Experienced farmers reveal that pruning of
infected flowers will keep the pests at bay.
In fact, endosulfan is a commonly suggested
pesticide since it is claimed to contain low poison levels.
But often farmers use a high dosage of chemicals for
speedy and immediate effect on the crops without
following precautionary measures such as using a mask
and gloves. Laboureres are thus affected by severe skin
diseases besides suffering from nausea and vomiting.
Mencher (1991) found that rice growers while applying
poisonous pesticides don’t adopt any precautionary
measures. Though many farmers immediately do not feel
an impact on their health, in the long run this does create
health disorders. To provide health care facilties the
governments need to spend huge amount of money.
Realizing the hazardous effects of endosulfan,
Singapore, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Belize
banned its use in 1999, and Korea and Bangladesh have
disallowed its use on paddy fields. In fact, the US
Environmental Protection Agency classifies endoslufan as
a category lb (highly hazardous) chemical, since it is
easily absorbed by the stomach, lungs and through the
skin. Despite this evidence, in India, endosulfan is used
even by the state owned organizations like PCK. This
shows the indifferent attitude and lack of political will on
the part of the governments.
Indiscriminate use of pesticides in cashew garden
has been on the increase due to liberal subsidies as well.
Till a couple of years ago, cashew growers (Marginal and
small farmers) in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur district were
given one literate of endosulfan with five literates of neem
oil free of cost for one acre. It was observed that many
farmers obtained false eligibility certificates and some of
them utilized the pesticides on other crops including
paddy, groundnut and black gram in villages like Nadur
and Kollangarani, Worse, some farmers sold the pesticides
thus availed to wholesale dealers, which was later resold
to the farmers. Thus the subsidized pesticide supply
meant for cashew has been used for other crops
The Kasargod type of episode of pesticide use
will have chain-reactions on human beings and the
ecosystem, with many people becoming crippled and
mentally retarded. In each household at least one person
has been found to suffer from its effects and it is noted that
from 19990 to 2001, 156 cases of disorders in just 123
households were recorded by a singly physician in Padre
Village alone (table 2). Cancer cases, at 49, were the most
prevalent, followed by psychiatric cases, nine individuals
committed suicide as they could not bear the torture.
Some locals report that they are unable to bear the
expenditure for treatment. Aerial spraying of chemicals
does not spare drinking water sources, and the water has
become yellowish. The groundwater and storms have
been totally affected and are now unfit for domestic
consumption and for agriculture. This shows the enormity
of the issue on the local biotic and abiotic resources.
Table – 2: Health Disorders in Padre Village
Disorders
Cancer
Mental retardation
Congenital
anomalies
Psychiatric cases
Epilepsy
Suicides
No of Cases
49
23
09
43
23
09
58
Volume 1 No. 2, August 2011
International Journal of Science and Technology
©2010-11 IJST Journal. All rights reserved
http://www.ejournalofsciences.org
Total
156
Source: Down to Earth (2001).
Business - as usual the manufacturers of chemical
pesticides, the pesticide manufactures’ association tried to
defend the spraying of endosulfan by advertising in dailies
that the pesticide was harmless and did not affect people
and environment. According to one report, the deputy,
commissioner of Kasargod ordered halting of aerial spray
of chemicals till the three committees appointed submitted
their findings. Although this is a welcome move, the
authorities now need to compensate the economic,
environmental and emotional sufferings of the locals.
Individual studies and expert committee reports have
shown that several people especially those below 25 years
of age in Padre, suffer from various abnormalities. PCK
however, ignored these warnings and continued with aerial
spraying of pesticides although the Central Insecticides
Board did not give permission either to the government or
to private agency for spraying of hazardous chemicals
including endosufan; On its part PCK claims that it has
been strictly following guidelines like prior announcement
and covering of water bodies before undertaking aerial
sprying of pesticides.
The National Research Centre of Cashew also
reported by withdrew endosulfan from its list of
recommended pesticides. In Padre Village, PCK officials
went to the victims’ houses and sought their signature on
papers allegedly stating that their health problems were
not due to spraying of endosulfan. The National Human
Rights Commission (NHRC) has now served notices to the
Indian Council of Medical Research, the chief secretary of
Kerala and the ministries of health and agriculture. The
NHRC has also took note of the alleged signature
collection by PCK officials. But so far not much relief has
been addressed towards the affected.
IV. LACK OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
AND LEGISLATION
health as a fundamental right. However, as the Supreme
Court has pointed out, due to many lacunae in legislation,
there is a need for suitable amendment to the legislation
(The Hindu, July 22, 2001). The Insecticide Act of 1958
cannot cancel the registration (already given by the
Pesticide Registration Committee) to a substance is found
later to be hazardous to health and the environment by a
scientific study. In addition the apex court observed that
there is no coordinated effort among ministries like
agriculture, environment and health in the entire episode.
There have been no continuous efforts to conduct
scientific research or have minimum information about the
adverse effects of the use of such pesticides or other
chemicals on the living organisms.
The centre has set up the Pesticide Environment
Pollution Advisory Committee under the union department
of agriculture. However, the Supreme Court has continued
to observe public interest litigation on pesticides regarded
as hazardous in developed countries being dumped in
developing countries including India. This reveals the fact
that lack of will power and poor understanding of the
importance of environmental issues often prevent the
authorities from taking punitive actions on the offenders.
V. CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS
It is essential to increase the yield levels and
production in agriculture. At the same time it should not
be compromised with environmental loss and human cost.
In the present case it is very clear that the banned pesticide
has been used without any precautionary measures.
Consequently, the entire biotic and a biotic system has
been severely expressed. Local communities are helpless.
Proper assessment, rigorous monitoring and environmental
implications of synthetic chemicals should be ascertained
will before allowing for large scale use.
More
significantly, the long term implications on the human
health and environment need to be studied scientifically
for sustainable development.
REFERENCES
Lack of scientific research studies and lacunae in
legislation are also responsible for this situation. Until the
CSE revealed the results of its studies, only local medical
practitioners had done some analysis, which indicates that
neither the state-owned PCK nor the public sectorsupported boffins made sincere attempts to objectively
examine the implications of pesticide dumping. All state
departments’ officials have allegedly maintained that the
situation cannot be attributed to spraying of synthetic
pesticides without ascertain or conducting scientific
analyses on the issue.
Another dimension to this issue is the loopholes
in the existing legislation pertaining to pesticide
formulations, registration and application. There is an
obligation on the part of the state to provide a clean
environment to its people and Article 21 of the
Constitution ensures the right to a clean environment and
[1]
Ann (2001), Down to Earth 9(19): 28-35.
[2]
Mencher, J P (1991), Agricultural Labour and
Pesticides in Rice Growing Regions of India:
some Health Considerations, Economic and
Political Weekly, XXIV (39):2263-68.
[3]
Rajendran S (2002), Pesticide Spraying in
Kerala, Economic and Political Weekly,
XXXVII, (23):2206-7.
[4]
……..….. (1998), An Exploratory Study on
Organic Farming in India, Living Resources for
the Millenium, Ed., J Willam (ed), Loyola
College, Chennai.
59

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