Endosulfan: Government and the Pesticide Industry Orchestrating Genocide

On May 13th 2011, the Supreme Court (SC) banned the use, sale, production and export of the pesticide endosulfan throughout the country, citing its harmful effects. For more than two decades now, several organizations and concerned individuals have been waging a protracted battle demanding this ban, and the SC verdict is an important step forward in their struggle. This battle has not just had to contend with the powerful pesticide lobby, but also with various governments who have repeatedly tried to protect corporate interests over concerns of health and safety of millions of people. However, the battle is unfortunately far from over: according to the SC verdict, the ban will remain effective till the time a joint committee (formed under the aegis of the Indian Council of Medical Research and the Agriculture Commissioner) submits its report to the court about the harmful effects of this widely used pesticide. Given the track record of the state machinery and government institutions of pandering to corporate interests, there is every reason to remain skeptical of what this joint committee appointed by the UPA will recommend. If the ICMR gives a clean chit to endosulfan, the ban imposed by the SC will be lifted.

The history of the use of endosulfan in India is a tragic one: the Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK) started trial spraying of endosulfan in the cashew plantations of Kasargod in 1977-78. From 1981, the PCK started regular spraying of Endosulfan two to three times a year. And over 20 years of aerial spraying of this highly toxic pesticide on cashew plantations in Kerala and Karnataka has left many with mental and physical disorders. Victims suffer from horrific congenital deformities, physical disabilities, mental retardation and a range of gynaecological problems. According to a estimate issued by several organisations and concerned individuals, more than 9000 victims of endosulfan have been identified in Kasargod district of Kerala alone, out of which over 4800 patients are bedridden. Over thousand victims of endosulfan have already died in this district. Similar effects are also being witnessed today in Idukki and Palakkad districts of Kerala, as well as in Dakshin Kannada, Kodagu and Udupi districts of Karnataka.

The concern related to the health and environmental impacts of endosulfan is not new. Way back in 1991, the Ministry of Agriculture constituted a high-powered committee (known as the Banerjee Commission) to review whether endosulfan should be continued to be used in India. This pesticide is so toxic, and its impacts so well documented that as many as eighty one countries have already banned its manufacture and use. Why then was this highly toxic pesticide allowed to be extensively used for several decades? The story of the use of endosulfan in India is also a story of how an unholy nexus between government institutions and profit-hungry corporations cynically sacrificed the lives and the health of hundreds of people, by flouting every democratic norm.

To begin with, in 1991 itself, the Banerjee Commission recommended that the spraying of endosulfan should not be allowed in areas where water bodies exist. However, endosulfan continued to be sprayed in Kasargod where 13 rivers and many other water bodies existed.  Moreover, spraying of endosulfan was done without the mandatory permission from the Civil Aviation Department; even the Central Insecticide Board has testified in the Kerala High Court that the spraying took place illegally.

Secondly, successive governments and several government institutions (including various departments of the state and central governments as well as state-run educational and research institutions) repeatedly worked to shield the pesticide lobby and cover up the harmful impacts of endosulfan. For instance, the central government had accepted the reports of the O P Dubey committee and the C D Mayee committee – both of which had given a clean chit to endosulfan, despite the fact that several groups and individuals had questioned the recommendations and findings of these committees. It has repeatedly been pointed out that these reports were manipulated and facts distorted to defend the use of endosulfan.

For the past many years, the pesticide industry had resorted to virulent slander campaigns and bullying tactics against all those who raised their voices against endosulfan. Surrendering to this influential lobby, the Indian government has consistently been opposing a global ban on endosulfan. At the recent UN conference in Stockholm, the Indian government, bowing down to an international outcry against endosulfan, grudgingly accepted that this pesticide is harmful and should ultimately be banned. However, once again protecting corporate interests, the UPA has asked for ‘exemptions’ for endosulfan to be used on 16 crops (including cotton, tea, rice, wheat and mango)! Therefore, if the ICMR decides that endosulfan is safe for use, India can continue to use endosulfan for many more years.

It is high time now that the use and manufacture of endosulfan is permanently banned. As a result of spirited movements in Kerala and Karnataka against endosulfan, the state governments in these states have finally banned the use of endosulfan. But it is now necessary to push for a country-wide ban. Also, criminal prosecution should be taken against the corporate as well as the central and state government authorities who were responsible several deaths and disaster due to the prolonged use of endosulfan.

Brush Strokes in Chains: Tribute to Maqbool Fida Husain

AISA says adieu to one of the greatest modern painters in the world, Maqbool Fida Husain (17 Sep 1915—9 June 2011). Husain’s painting achieved a distinctive style that combined deep roots in Indian tradition with modern artistic expression. Hussein was born in Pandharpur of Maharashtra. In his initial days he used to paint cinema hoardings in Mumbai. He joined the leftist Progressive Artists’ Group in 1947. His film Through a Painters Eye (1967) won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. He was nominated for Rajya Sabha In 1986 and awarded Padma Vibushan in 1991.

Husain has made Indian art stand tall in the world. Yet, it is a matter of enduring shame and sorrow that Husain met with the most vicious communal attacks and persecution in the very country which he loved and to which he brought such credit. Hindu fundamentalist groups like Bajrang Dal and VHP vandalised his painting exhibitions, harassed him by slapping multiple obscenity cases against him (cases that were decisively dismissed and held to be harassment by the Courts) and issued death threats against him. Husain was singled out for this persecution because he was Muslim – his love for his land and his right to paint on subjects of Indian tradition was questioned because of his religious identity. More shameful was the fact that the ‘secular’ Government of India did little to protect the rights of this Indian citizen and great artist, thereby forcing Husain into exile in his last days.

Bahadur Shah Zafar’s poetry expressed the deep sorrow of enforced separation from his beloved land – an exile ordained by the colonial rulers. Husain, like Bahadur Shah Zafar, took his last breath without being able to return home – an agony inflicted by the Sanghi terrorists and left unchallenged by the Congress Government. His beloved country failed to protect his artistic freedom and his rights.

Adieu to Husain, the greatest ambassador of Indian Modern Art!

POSCO: Glaring Instance of Corporate Loot and Corruption

In spite of ample evidence of rampant violations of laws on part of the Korean company POSCO and the Odisha State Government, the UPA Government’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has given POSCO a ‘green’ signal of forest and environmental clearance. In doing so, the MOEF has ignored the reports of two expert Committees appointed by the Ministry itself, which had concluded that the Odisha Government violated the Forest Rights Act to benefit POSCO.

Brutal State Repression and Crackdown on Democratic Protests Against Land Acquisition

Following the clearance, forced land acquisition in the Jagatsinghpur area has begun, with heavy police deployment in the area. 20 platoons of police have been already deployed in the area since 14 May 2011 and the DIG of Police has announced that another 28 platoons of police will be sent for forcible acquisition of land by the government. The villagers who have been bravely resisting land grab are threatened with intensified repression if they challenge the ongoing land grab.

The situation has become very tense since 3 June 2011 when the police and civil administration brutally beat up the villagers in Nuagaon as they refused to give their betel-vines and opposed the forceful acquisition of their land. According to a report on the ongoing repression submitted by several groups and concerned individuals to the National Human Rights Commission, these villagers were released only after their betel-vines had been destroyed. Moreover, they were forced to take cheques as compensation. Seventeen people including women and 6 children (5-12 year old) were arrested and the police force is spreading fear and terror in the area using loud speakers and announcing that if people do not leave their betel vines voluntarily, force will be used to destroy the betel-vines and land will be forcibly taken by the administration.

Blatant Violation of People’s Rights and Environmental Laws In Order to Force the POSCO Project Upon the People of India

A wide range of existing legislations have been subverted to allow the POSCO project: for instance, the Odisha Government has claimed that the resolutions by the Palli Sabhas of Dhinkia and Govindpur (in which 65 % of the villagers participated) rejecting the proposal to divert land to POSCO, are false. Shamefully, the MoEF and the UPA have accepted this absurd claim of the Odisha government, thus sanctioning a blatant contravention of existing legislations. Ironically, in his order, the Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has said, “Faith and trust in what the state government says (is) an essential pillar of cooperative federalism” and “the bona fides of a democratically elected state government cannot always be questioned by the Centre.” On what basis does Ramesh conclude that the democratically expressed mandate of the gram sabhas carries less weight than the word of a state government? Does his respect for democratic mandates extend only up to state government – not to the village-level democratic bodies, in which villagers directly express their mandate?

Actually, Ramesh’s remark about federalism lets the cat out of the bag: the UPA Government is acting in shameful collusion with the Odisha Government in violating laws to appease corporate interests. The MoU signed by the Odisha government and POSCO provides for the large-scale export of iron ore – POSCO will have rights to mine 600 million tonnes of ore over 30 years, of which 60% will be exported to POSCO’s Korean steel mills. The exported iron ore will thus serve the economic interest of South Korea and POSCO stockholders – mainly American banks and Warren Buffet – one of the world’s richest’s individuals.

The list of irregularities in clearing the POSCO project is a long one: To begin with, apart from the shameful subversion of the people’s mandate against land acquisition for POSCO (expressed through gram sabha resolutions), environment and forest clearances have been given despite open violations of the UPA’s own Forests Rights Act. Moreover, the MoEF’s own committees and reports have been subverted, and gross violations of the law blissfully ignored, to clear the project.

The A. Raja Angle

The Odisha government alloted this project to POSCO out-of-turn, jumping a queue of 200 applicants. Moreover, Jairam Ramesh’s clearance is all the more legally questionable because they are being granted on the basis of a 2005 MOU, which has lapsed and is yet to be renewed. Anti-corruption activists have pointed out the similarities between the POSCO case and the 2G scam in which spectrum was handed over cheap to companies in violation of regulations in the 2G scam. In the POSCO case, massive natural resources – iron ore, land, forests, water, and a harbour – are being handed over to a company in violations of law. It should be noted that the captive port for POSCO was hastily cleared in the very last phase of A Raja’s tenure as Environment Minister. Raja is now in jail in the 2G case, and the CBI is investigating corruption during his tenure as Telecom Minister as well as his earlier tenure as Environment Minister. Why has Ramesh granted clearance to POSCO without even waiting to see if the CBI finds any evidence of corruption in Raja’s role in clearing the captive port for POSCO?

In January this year, Ramesh had remarked on POSCO’s “strategic significance for the country” (i.e relations between Korea and India); and now he is citing ‘faith and trust’ in state governments. These indicate that the clearance for POSCO is not based on whether or not POSCO has the necessary legal basis for clearance, but on political considerations. Not long ago, when the UPA Government had been forced to distance itself from the Vedanta project, Rahul Gandhi had called himself the ‘soldier’ of the adivasis of Odisha in their battle against land grab. The ‘soldier’ is silent now as his Government colludes with the Odisha Government to wage war on laws, democracy and people’s survival – all to appease huge MNCs.

The POSCO ‘scam’ – in which laws of the land are violated to allow a private MNC to loot precious natural resources of the country and make profits to the tune of lakhs of crore rupees – at the cost of livelihood and survival of tribals and poor villagers in one of the poorest states of the country – is the latest shameful instance of corruption and corporate loot, facilitated by the Odisha Government and the UPA Government at the Centre. It calls for cancellation of the project, a thorough investigation and punishment to those guilty of breaking the laws to benefit corporate interest.

Campaign in Delhi and Bhind…

Campaign in Munirka

Volunteers of the Students-Youth Campaign Against Corruption in the national capital Delhi have been campaigning all over the city. Campaigns have taken place in Narela, Mandavali, Jamia Nagar, Patel Chest, Vijay Nagar, Christian colony as well as in Munirka, Ber Sarai, Kalu Sarai and Katwaria Sarai in South Delhi.

All over Delhi, people are responding with enthusiasm to the ongoing signature campaign and several people are joining as volunteers in the campaign. From students and youth, to shopkeepers and vendors, people are showing their anger against government policies of facilitating land grab and corporate loot of resources.

Convention in Narela

AISA Campaign in Bhind

AISA activists from Delhi University also went to Bhind in Madhya Pradesh. After a convention in Bhind town, volunteers campaigned near the district court in Bhind, as well as in Bhup village.

AISA’s Anti-corruption Campaign in Maharashtra…

As part of AISA’s nation-wide students-youth campaign against corruption, AISA along with the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Brigade organised a three day-long workshop against corruption and corporate loot in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, from 23rd to 25th May 2011. 50 delegates from different districts of Maharashtra participated in the workshop.

During the workshop, the delegates pointed out that corruption and corporate loot of our national resources had reached unprecedented levels. From land and water, to minerals and airwaves, all natural resources that belong collectively to the people of the country are being handed out on a platter to a few companies. And in order to gain access to these profitable recources and to ensure skyrocketing profits, corporations are indulging in massive corruption. The growing rate of privatisation in the education sector and in other sectors like health and infrastructure was also discussed at length. It was pointed put that in Maharashtra, the contractor-corporate lobby is essentially running the government and dictating state policy; common people’s real needs figure nowhere in the policies of the government. The participants also pointed out how the entire state machinery is being employed to brutally muzzle any dissenting voice against this open corporate loot.

AISA national president Sandeep addessing the workshop

All the delegates in the workshop participted in the process of planning the implementaiton of the anti-corruption campaign in Maharashtra. It was decided that conferences and conventions could also be held in other parts of the state. Conventions have been planned at Nagpur, Nasik, Kolhapur, Shrirampur, Dhulia, Aurangabad, Kopargaon and Pune.

Convention in Shrirampur

AISA and the Students-Youth Against Corruption organized a day-long ‘Convention Against Corruption and Corporate Loot’ at Shrirampur, Maharashtra, on June 1, 2011. More than 100 students as well as people from many walks of life participated and shared their views at the convention. Professor Santosh Pawar, renowned Marathi poet, Professor Balasaheb Bowke, senior journalist Ashok Thupe, and AISA leaders from JNU, New Delhi spoke at the convention. After the convention, a procession against corruption and corporate loot was carried out in the city.

Comrade Jeevan addressing people during a campaign

In Maharashtra, the campaign against corruption has gained a good momentum at various centers. This campaign is evoking very good response from every section of the society – particularly from peasants, rural workers and intelligentsia, apart from students and youth. Several small shop keepers and street vendors have also extended their full support wherever AISA campaigned amongst them. Our volunteer teams are also getting very good public support on the ongoing signature campaign on the pledge against corruption.