Environmental activists are celebrating India’s agreeing to a gradual ban on Endosulfan on the final day of a meeting of parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in Geneva. But it was a bitterly fought political battle between the Left Front and the Congress in Kerala that pushed the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to take a stand against the pesticide.
In a reversal of its decade-old position, India yesterday agreed to the inclusion of endosulfan in Annex A, a listing of globally-banned pesticides, of the Stockholm Convention on PoPs. As Endosulfan has finally been put under Annex A, with exemptions for few countries like India, production and use of the pesticide will come into force within five years, which can be extended by another five years. After that it will take another year for the ban to be executed. This would mean that India can continue to use endosulfan for at least 11 years.
India, China and Uganda are the only three countries who had sought exemptions for 44 pests in 14 crops. Now, India has to ratify its decision and convey it to the Stockholm Convention, so that it can avail of exemptions and financial support.
But behind this tussle over using or not using the pesticide, is a hard battle fought out by top leaders of the Left and the Congress.
Even environmental activists agree that the Congress leaders from Kerala and their rivals from the Left forced the Centre to review its stand on Endosulfan. Kerala Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan and Congress leader V M Sudheeran were at the fore front, asking for a nationwide ban on endosulfan. The campaign started in the last leg of state Assembly elections. But public opinion built up quickly against Congress leaders at the Centre for their silence on the issue. R Sridhar of NGO Thanal said, “The media and the public in Kerala criticised defence minister A K Antony for his silence.”
Antony and overseas affairs minister Vayalar Ravi rushed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and appealed for a ban on Endosulfan. In fact, it was Antony who had banned the chemical in Kerala initially. As Achuthanandan began a day-long fast seeking a ban, his counterpart in the Congress, former chief minister Oommen Chandy, rushed to Delhi to meet Congress President Sonia Gandhi to save the honour of the party. Sridhar said the role of environment minister Jairam Ramesh was crucial too, as he had promised to ban it if he was convinced that it was bad. He was also waiting for a good bargain. “So, when they got it, the government was ready to consider the ban.”