NEW DELHI — India’s top court on Friday temporarily banned use of the pesticide endosulfan, which the government has resisted blacklisting despite curbs imposed in 60 other countries over health concerns.
India is the world’s biggest producer and user of the controversial chemical that is sprayed on crops from cocoa, rice to cotton even though it has been linked to birth deformities and illnesses in farmers and their families.
The Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, declared it was “the risk that is bothering us” before imposing the eight-week ban and asking the government to produce a report on the chemical.
“Even if one child suffers we do not want it on our heads. That is why we are imposing an all-India ban on the use and production of endosulfan,” the bench said.
Opposition to use of the chemical in India has been strongest in southern Kerala state where studies suggest one sprayed area, Kasargod, has experienced unusually high levels of severe sicknesses and birth deformities.
Cashew plantations were aerially sprayed with the chemical during the 1980s and 1990s, but use of the chemical in Kerala is now banned.
Campaigners say the effects of endosulfan have led to “Kerala’s Bhopal,” a reference to the 1984 industrial disaster at a Union Carbide plant in central India that claimed thousands of lives.
The Kerala government says several hundred people died from problems related to the spraying and has paid compensation to their families.
“It’s a very dangerous chemical, it causes birth deformities, neurological problems, and has an impact on the reproductive system,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director of the New-Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment, a non-governmental organisation.
“The Indian producers of endosulfan have been unwilling to admit its dangers and the government has been complicit,” he said. “It’s a big business.”