The Supreme Court of India has allowed the export of 1090t of endosulfan, even as it made clear that the ban imposed on 13 May, 2011 on the production and sale of the pesticide, would continue.
Endosulfan, the third largest insecticide exported from India in terms of volume, has been the subject of intense debate in India, and 81 countries worldwide have banned it.
Though there are just three manufacturers of endosulfan in India, the insecticide industry has alleged that the European Union wants the pesticide banned in order to destroy 70% of the world exports from India. Officials of the Pesticides Manufacturers and Formulators Association, Endosulfan Manufacturers Association and International Stewardship Centre claim that the EU is eager to bring into use alternative products, following a ban in India.
R. Hariharan, chairman of the International Stewardship Centre and vice-president of Excel Crop Care, one of the largest private manufacturers of endosulfan, said the replacement value of endosulfan by a patented alternative is estimated to be in excess of US$1bn. ‘It would become a highly expensive proposition for a country that is the second largest agricultural economy in the world,’ he commented.
India has an installed endosulfan production capacity of 10,000t. Around 50% of this is exported, with Indian companies earning $40m in revenue.
Officials in the Indian Chemical Council said endosulfan has been used on a very large scale by Indian farmers, particularly in horticulture and pulses. ‘It is considered to be soft on pollinators such as honeybees and other beneficial insects such as ladybird beetles, though very effective as a pest killer,’ said S. Ganesan, chairman of the International Treaties Expert Committee of the Indian Chemical Council.
The pesticide has been in use for aerial sprays in the cashew plantations in Kasargode district of Kerala and some parts of Karnataka. However, following reports of children born with severe neurological and congenital deformities after parental exposure to the chemical, India’s Supreme Court of India recently upheld a plea for a complete ban on its production, sale, distribution and use.
Though the off-patent organochlorine insecticide and acaricide is being phased out globally, the debate in India also rages over a balance between concern for the environment and the requirements of agriculture in the country. Of 142m ha of agricultural land in India, about 50m ha are devoted to crops dependent on bee pollination. India produces 52,000m t of honey every year and exports nearly 22,000m t.
‘Endosulfan is a cost effective generic pesticide. It is known to be of low toxicity to honeybees and is a valuable pesticide for pest control in bee pollinated crops,’ said Ganesan.
India is the second largest producer of vegetables and fruits in the world, and the majority of these are bee pollinated, he continued. ‘With production of 135m t of vegetables, 70m t of fruits, 97m t of paddy and 82m t of wheat, Indian farmers have been relying on endosulfan for pest control in cross pollinated crops,’ he said.
In mid-October, India’s apex court directed that endosulfan stockpiles with various companies be exported to countries where use of endosulfan is permitted. At present India has the export orders for 1734t of technical grade endosulfan and 292,500L of formulation. Efforts are under way by the companies concerned to comply with the court order. Dipesh Kantisen Shroff, managing director of Excel Crop Care, said approximately 30% of the firm’s revenue was from endosulfan. ‘Since13 May, we have not produced anything because of the ban,’ he added.
H. S. Karangle, a former employee of Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilisers, a government owned company, said Indian standards allowed application of endosulfan during the flowering period in agricultural and horticultural crops. ‘The court has permitted companies to export whatever stock is lying with them. They are not allowed to sell it within India since it can be used in the field. Though there are so many views and counterviews on the chemical’s adverse side effects on human beings, one has to understand the matter is still sub judice,’ he added.