Kerala’s Endosulfan Tragedy That Shook the Country

For nearly 20 years, the people of Kasaragod in Northern Kerala were oblivious to the detrimental health effects of indirectly or directly getting exposed to Endosulfan. The pesticide was developed in 1954 and extensively used to enhance the growth of crops, especially cashews, around the 1980s and 1990s. Over the years, people started to show signs of gynaecological malformation, deformities, physical disabilities, low mortality rate, and mental health issues. And, all of this was attributed to the aerial use of Endosulfan.

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Kerala's Endosulfan Tragedy
Picture Courtesy: My Nation

Before we dive into its history, here’s what is happening right now. The Supreme Court of India directed the Kerala Government in 2017 to pay INR 500 crores to over 5,000 Endosulfan victims and to set up medical facilities to provide treatment to the victims. As of 2021, parents of Endosulfan victims are still protesting in front of the district collectorate of Kasaragod claiming that the Government is yet to fulfil their compensation. The council head for the Endosulfan victims, Ambalathara Kunhikrishnan, claims that “nearly 4000 of the 6,730 odd victims were yet to be given any compensation.”

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Kerala's Endosulfan Tragedy

How Did The Endosulfan Tragedy Start?

In the year 1963-64, the Kerala Agricultural Department focused on cultivating cashews in Padre village, Kasaragod. When the Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK) took over the cultivation in 1978, they started to test aerial spraying of Endosulfan which was done twice or thrice a year. While the usage of Endolsulfan was promoted, people were specifically cautioned to not use it near water bodies as it would turn toxic.

Around the 1990s, people in and around Padre village started to show signs of ill health, which aggravated drastically. So in 1997, activists and social groups started to create noise around the the harmful effects of Endosulfan. While Padre was the main focus of attention, around 11 districts in Kasaragod reported physical and mental disorders among people caused due to the pesticide. It was only in 2001 that the Kerala Government started to take notice of the issue. Deep investigation and studies were conducted to see the cause-effect relationship of the pesticide on people’s health. While some studies strictly demanded the ban of Endosulfan, others refuted the issue.

Hope for Kerala's endosulfan victims from UAE - News | Khaleej Times
Picture Courtesy: Khaleej Times

Finally, a civil society group sought out help from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) to conduct a clean, grassroot study. The report, titled, “A Centre for Science and Environment report on the contamination of endosulfan in the villagers” said,

“The first tests conducted on the level of pesticide contamination in the village showed that extremely high levels of the organochlorine pesticide endosulfan were present in all the samples, from human blood and milk, to soil, water, fruits vegetables, cow’s milk and skin tissue, fish and frog. The Plantation Corporation of Kerala, run by the state government, has been spraying endosulfan through helicopters for more than two decades over its cashew plantations on the hills in and around Padre to counter the tea mosquito pest. Scientific studies show that endosulfan can affect the unborn child in the womb, among the other health effects. Several countries have banned or restricted the use of endosulfan, though the pesticide is not banned in India.

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Around the same time, Down To Earth, a magazine that focusses on Politics of Environment and Development, reported a story about the Endosulfan tragedy and stories of people who’ve been affected by it. The Government finally sent down a team and conducted proper research which went on till 2005. A lot of parties were involved in the research. During the years, many publications started to talk about the Endosulfan tragedy which pressurised the Government even further. To know the chronology of the events, click here.

In 2005, the Kerala Government finally banned the use of Endosulfan.

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