Reacting to deaths of farmers due to pesticide poisoning, Ramesh Karuppiah, an environmentalist who has been promoting organic farming in Perambalur and Ariyalur, said that there are hundreds of farmers and farm hands falling ill due to pesticide poisoning. “In Thanjavur district, there are 33,000 hectares of genetically modified cotton being grown. We have heard reports of more than a hundred farmers falling ill due to pesticide poisoning, requiring hospitalisation. Four farmers have died due to this — Raja from Sithali village, Selvam from Othiyam village, Ramalingam from Koothur, Archunan from Pasumbalur— and the government has not acknowledged this,” said the activist.
Civil society activists have alleged that the death of farmers and farm workers due to pesticide poisoning is squarely because of gross shortcomings and negligence in pesticide management in the country.
Ramesh said that the government should categorise this as a case of occupational hazard and offer compensation to the families who have lost the main breadwinner. “Their deaths are hard hitting on their families. There has to be an inter-departmental investigation into the matter so that medium and long-term measures can also be taken to prevent the recurrence of such deaths. This is after all a violation of the Right to Life of our farmers and farm workers. Given that this is clearly a case of pesticide usage on Bt cotton, we need to inquire into the failure of GM technology too,” he added.
This problem is completely preventable, and it is unacceptable that the government has not responded so far to these developments in Perambalur, said Ananthoo of Safe Food Alliance. Victims of pesticide poisoning are blamed in a ‘victimising the victim’ approach by the pesticides industry and governments. “Our socio-economic conditions, coupled with marketing strategies and failure of government extension services, do not allow for safe use of these pesticides. Often, it is seen that those pesticides which have been banned in other countries are allowed here. The state should stop licensing the sales of those pesticides which have been implicated in the Perambalur poisonings,” said Ananthoo.
He informed that a PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court on this subject. SFA demanded an ex-gratia relief of at least Rs 5 lakh per victim family in the case of deaths and at least Rs 2 lakh in the other poisoning cases.