Too little, too late

Banning a select list of pesticides and leaving out many lethal ones makes the latest order arbitrary 

Five years after creating the Anupam Verma committee in 2013 to review the toxicity of 66 pesticides used in India but prohibited overseas, and two years after the committee submitted its report in 2015, the government has finally banned 18 neonicotinoid pesticides.

Via the Pesticides (Prohibition) Order, 2018 published on August 8, the government prohibited the manufacture, import, formulation, transport and sale of 11 out of the 18 pesticides, including benomyl, carbaryl, diazinon and others, with immediate effect. Six are to be banned from December 2022 and one (trifluralin) is permitted to be used only for wheat. Out of the 66, 27 are to be reviewed at a later date as more reports on toxicity roll in, three have already been banned and one is under the judicial scanner (endosulfan).

To put these numbers in context, of the 280-odd pesticide molecules registered in India, about a 100 are not used in other countries due to safety issues. The Anupam Verma committee had suggested the prohibition of 19 items, but even that number has not been met. Moreover, glyphosate, monocrotophos and mancozeb, largely responsible for pesticide poisoning-related deaths and suicides of farmers, did not even make it to the banned list.

The rampant use of lethal pesticides is driven by two factors: low cost and lack of awareness. Lack of proper regulation has made matters worse. According to the Insecticides Act of 1968, multiple versions of pesticide molecules are permitted. This is why although we have 280 molecules, more than 250,000 products have made their way into the market, mostly through unregulated sources, which constitute 25% of the Rs.270 billion agrochemical industry in India. As fixing regulation and lax implementation is the hard way out, banning them is the easy option.