Pesticides Management Bill 2008: Issues

A Bill by the name of Pesticides Management Bill 2008 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in October 2008. The same was then referred to the Department-related Standing Committee on Agriculture on 30th October 2008 for examination and recommendations. The Standing Committee gave its report (46th report) in February 2009. This Bill is now to be discussed in Rajya Sabha, with amendments proposed by the Ministry of Agriculture. This Bill, if passed, will replace the Insecticides Act 1968 under which regulation of pesticides takes place in India as of today.

Earlier, in 2003, in an unprecedented development that forced the nation to take note of the harmful effects of synthetic pesticides, a Joint Parliamentary Committee was constituted to look at the issue of pesticide residues, after a civil society group’s findings on the unacceptable level of pesticide residues in drinking water, soft drinks etc. created nation-wide furore.

The Insecticides Act 1968 was enacted after a tragic accident took several lives in India with the accidental mix-up of a deadly pesticide with food consignments. The evidence related to the ill-effects of pesticides was small and the use of pesticides in the country was low when the Act was brought in.

However, vast scientific evidence had been built over the decades both on the negative impacts of synthetic pesticides on various fronts (on human health, on environment, on wildlife, on trade security, on farm economics etc.) as well as on alternative science and practice of pest management in agriculture. Today, NPM (Non Pesticidal Management) of crops is gaining huge traction where on lakhs of acres of land farmers are proving that agriculture is indeed possible and viable without the use of synthetic pesticides. However, the Pesticides Management Bill 2008 ignores both kinds of evidence in its regulatory framework as well as the details contained therein.

It is apparent today, looking at what is unfolding in states like Punjab, that any new statute on pesticides management should adopt the precautionary principle and get into registering of pesticides only if there are no alternatives are available. Regulation from a bio-safety-centred focus is once again proven to be important (this was the central focus in the Insecticides Act when it was created, but in its implementation, this was lost).

Further, given the scenario of privatisation of various agri-inputs including pesticides, concomitant with the deep agrarian distress witnessed by indebtedness and farm suicides all over the country, it is important that pesticides’ regulation should focus on price regulation also. The need to bring in accountability in any such trade, that too of toxic materials, continues to be there and has to play a central part in any such statute.

However, the pesticides management bill 2008 appears to be weak on all these fronts (precautionary approach, biosafety, alternatives, accountability etc.). For instance, not everything that is possible, to ensure bio-safety, has been built into the Bill. Therefore, many of our suggestions are to address this.

Similarly, regulation of pesticides in India has suffered a serious setback in terms of public confidence and credibility of the regulators with various scandals plaguing such regulation (unacceptable levels of residues jeopardising trade security, such residues as well as illegal and unscientific recommendations and use compromising health safety, bribery scams etc.). Crop management recommendations of the public and private agri research establishment and the pesticides industry need to be made liable for the illegalities they are indulging in today. It therefore is important to make the regulation free of conflict of interest, transparent and rigorous in its scientificity, whereas the Pesticides Management Bill is not geared towards doing all of this at this point of time.

It is also important that regulation incorporate evolving evidence from world over even as it seeks to ensure that safety assessments do keep medium and long term impacts in mind. This does not find a place in the current regulation or the proposed regulation unfortunately.

The Pesticides Management Bill 2008 is also limiting itself to agricultural pesticides whereas pesticides used in the health sector and domestic pest control are also major areas of concern. Similar is the case with post-harvest pesticides. This is unfortunately neglected by this Bill.

There is also the serious issue of the inability to regulate or fix liability at the end-user end (farmer) stage; the recent Bihar incident of children being killed due to pesticides-poisoned food is another instance of the potential mishaps that are waiting to happen – in such a context, it is very important to understand the need to regulate at a more primary level by ensuring that such poisons are brought into the market in the first instance only when absolutely needed, only when there are no other alternatives. Even here, monitoring and reviewing for rigorous implementation and improvements in both the law and its implementation are missing as of now.

Most importantly, the regulatory body should not be under the administrative control of the Ministry of Agriculture, which constitutes an objectionable conflict of interest. Such a regulatory body should be either under the Ministry of Health or Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Available here are detailed amendments that we are seeking to the Pesticides Management Bill 2008.

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