Traditional pest control only alternative

By Stanley Pinto, TNN | Dec 9, 2012, 06.00 AM IST

Ravindranath Shanbhag, president, Human Rights Protection Foundation, Udupi and former professor of pharmacology in Manipal University is a strong advocate for human rights, civil liberties, and consumer protection. He was one among the first to link endosulfan to the deformities and various ailments affecting more than 5,000 people in about 103 villages of four taluks of Dakshina Kannada. His efforts saw the Karnataka Cashew Development Corporation (KCDC) revealing that endosulfan aerial spray was done in three more divisions ie, Udupi, Kundapura and Kumta. Excerpts:

The Supreme Court-appointed joint expert committee on endosulfan has recently said that “to exhaust the available stocks of raw material, manufacture and use of endosulfan may be permitted for a total period of two years”. How do you react to this?

We do not accept this argument. This powerful endocrine disruptor should not be used only for a silly reason like this. For the past several years, the ministry of agriculture has been claiming that endosulfan is a safe pesticide. Now, being a signatory to the Stockholm Convention and Rotterdam Convention, India is committed to discontinuing its use. The committee also said the “disposal of the existing stocks of endosulfan in the existing incinerators may take long due to the limited capacity and the cost of disposal would be exorbitant to the tune of Rs 1,189 crore”. This is not true.

Is there a mechanism to make available endosulfan inert or chemically neutral?

Endodiol and endosulfan sulfate are the two main degradable products of this poison. Scientists at Kyungpook National University and School of Bio-resource Sciences, Andong National University, both in South Korea andUniversity of California, have developed the technology of detoxifying endosulfan. The Supreme Court should direct the government of India take necessary action in this regard.

Any alternative available?

An ideal pesticide is the one which selectively kills the pest without harming human beings and animals. We do not have any pesticide which satisfies this definition. Therefore going back to the traditional methods of pest control such as using neem leaves and organic farming is the only solution. Biological control of pest is the best alternative to the chemical pesticides. For example, scientists from our horticulture department have developed several species of worms to control red-headed caterpillar, a pest destroying coconut trees. This is cheaper than chemical pesticide.

We know about 6,000 in the population is affected in four taluks of DK district. How many such villages are there in Udupi district?

According to the information received from KCDC, the aerial spray of endosulfan has taken place in Udupi, Kundapura and Kumta. We have list of 24 villages of Udupi, 50 villages of Kundapura and 29 villages of Moodbidri sub division. We have already found several children in these areas with symptoms similar to that of endosulfan toxicity. Only after the completion of the proposed survey, can we ascertain the exact position.