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Lax regulatory regime sows the seeds of spurious pesticides

The deaths of farmers in Maharashtra, Odisha and now in Tamil Nadu allegedly due to pesticide poisoning have yet again brought into focus the regulatory regime for agro-chemicals

Sanjeeb Mukherjee  |  New Delhi 

Pesticides and agro-chemicals are governed by the Insecticides Act, 1968, and Insecticides Rules, 1971, which regulate import, registration, manufacture, sale, transport, distribution and use of insecticides (pesticides). Insecticides are the largest sub-segment of agro-chemicals with 60 per cent market share, and fungicides and herbicides are the fastest growing segments accounting for 18 per cent and 16 per cent, respectively, of the total crop protection chemicals market, according to a 2016 report prepared by FICCI in collaboration with the Tata Strategic Management Group. A farmer sprays a mixture of fertilizer and pesticide onto his wheat crop on the outskirts of Ahmedabad A farmer sprays a mixture of fertilizer and pesticide onto his wheat crop on the outskirts of Ahmedabad All insecticides and pesticides have to necessarily undergo registration with the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee before they can be made available for use or sale. The committee grants approval after evaluating the environmental and safety data of the products. Since its inception, the committee has reportedly granted 250,000-300,000 approvals, but several industry players and experts are questioning the transparency of the procedure and record-keeping. Agriculture expert Vijay Sardana said the Registration Committee should place all agenda papers and evidence submitted by interested parties on its website to stop people from submitting fake documents to secure approvals. He said all samples collected and test results by the Registration Committee should be displayed on the Internet for a predetermined duration. “Like any other law, there is serious scope to improve the enforcement of the provisions of this (Insecticides) Act. The transparency in the enforcement area needs improvement. Sampling status and their test results should be known to farmers and society at large via websites. Transparency is the way forward. This will help in identifying the spurious or substandard pesticides in the system,” Sardana said. Industry sources say, spurious and fake pesticides comprise 30 per cent of the market. Fly-by-night players flout norms by taking advantage of the lax monitoring regime, putting at risk lives of millions of farmers and consumers. State governments, which issue manufacturing licences to pesticide makers even for packaging imported formulations, need to also ensure counterfeiters do not enter the fray. Anand Singh, Manager Life Sciences Advisory Group in Sathguru Management Consultant, said indiscriminate pesticide licences granted by states had led to a proliferation of manufacturing units to over 1,400. After the Yavatmal incident, the Maharashtra government raided godowns storing spurious pesticides, banned a few of them, while Odisha too reportedly banned few local plants. “Due to a high entry barrier, new-generation pesticides are not being introduced in India. Competition needs to be increased along with better regulation,” said Shiraj Hussain, former agriculture secretary. Anand pointed out the authorities rarely took punitive action against manufacturers of What was required was swift action, strict regulatory norms and compliance monitoring rules. Farmers are facing a rising number of pest attacks, which according to some estimates, damage 15-25 per cent of the country’s food. New pests and diseases call for newer anti-measures.

However, farmers’ awareness about plant chemicals is poor, leading to indiscriminate use and endangering their lives. “Recommended dosages are for the target pest or insect and body weight and exposure duration are important criteria. It is doubtful pesticide spray is responsible for human deaths if guidelines are followed as seldom a pesticide is permitted without toxicological studies in the country,” Sardana said. Hussain said most farmers were barely literate and instructions for pesticide use are hardly ever explained to them. “There is a well-defined protocol for use of pesticides. There is an urgent need to educate farmers and dealers. The instructions should be printed in local languages in bold letters,” he said. The Centre has set up a seven-member panel a few months ago under P Balaram, a former director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, to suggest ways to regulate prices of pesticides. It will also review the regulations and rules as well as guidelines regarding provision of technical and safety data, and other relevant issues. The committee is expected to finalise its recommendations in a few months. Anand said the key elements of any new regulatory system should include a regular review of pesticide molecules because a number of molecules banned internationally were being used in India. There is a need to include assessment of the effects of mixing two or more molecules, registration of which is often done on the basis of data on individual components.

First Published: Sat, December 09 2017. 22:15 IST
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