MUMBAI: An innocuous order banning pesticides at the height of the lockdown has ignited an unholy row between two powerful and key central ministries, confounding bureaucratic, political, corporate and farming circles alike, official sources said.
On May 18, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare issued a draft order -- 'Banning of Insecticides Order, 2020' (BIO), signed by Jt. Secretary Atish Chandra -- proposing to ban 27 major generic pesticides, which are widely used by the Indian agriculture community.
Taking umbrage at the MAFW's unilateral and abrupt decision, the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers (MCF) hit back sharply, virtually questioning the former's credentials to issue such an order without consulting all the stakeholders, including the MCF.
The MAFW is headed by Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, while MCF is headed by Minister D. V. Sadananda Gowda -- both considered close confidantes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In a stern letter on June 2, MCF Secretary R. K. Chaturvedi has slammed the MAFW, raising embarrassing questions on the latter's May 18 ban order.
Simultaneously, the MCF picked holes in the MAFW's order by giving its own detailed, itemized comments, and objections from the industry and the farmers, leading to red faces in various departments, said the sources.
Taking cognizance of the industry's reservations, the MCF pointed out that these 27 pesticides proposed to be banned comprise around 40 per cent of the total Indian market, besides dooming Indian exports to 130 countries like the US, Brazil, Australia, Canada, the UK, Japan, France, China, etc, and would hit the manufacturers badly.
The MCF has practically rejected the MAFW's order which contends that most of the data for the products is incomplete though all these pesticides are registered by the regulator, Central Insecticide Board & Registration Committee (CIB&RC).
"Once registered (by CIB&RC), a pesticide is supposed to meet all the requirements of bio-efficacy, toxicity, risk management to human and animal life and environment" the MCF quickly pointed out.
The industry goes ahead with investments and production facilities only after the CIB&RC's approvals, so such a sudden ban would not only render these huge investments wasteful, but cause huge loss of export earnings to India, the MCF added.
Indirectly ridiculing the MAFW order, the MCF said that "banning of a particular pesticide by a few countries based on some studies somewhere" was not sufficient grounds to do the same in India "without having adequate scientific evidence in the Indian context".
It advised that if any chemical posed hazards to humans, animals or environment, it could be banned after due socio-economic analysis, but any such chemical evaluation should be done using a 'risk-based (not hazard-based) approach'.
In view of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic which has badly affected all sectors including the chemical/agrochemical sectors worldwide, besides the current challenges posed by the recent locusts attack, the MAFW's ban "may not be an appropriate step," said MCF.
The MCF said even if it was assumed that there was sufficient justification to ban these pesticides, there was still not adequate grounds to ban their production for export purposes to countries that want to use it with necessary risk management.
Crop Care Foundation of India (CCFI) Executive Director Nirmala Pathrawal said owing to the MAFW's missive, the Rs.19,000-crore Indian pesticide industry with exports of more than Rs.22,000 crore, will be wiped out to the tune of 70 percent, with losses of around Rs.9000 crore and lakhs of job losses.
"There will be a massive shortage of insecticides, all major crops will be exposed to pests, alternatives may be very expensive and out of reach of most farmers, thus affecting yield, incomes and impact food security in India," Pathrawal told IANS.
Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) President Kishore Tiwari ominously warned that if the MAFW implements the ban, arising out of international pressures, the Indian agro-sector could go haywire for several years.
"Cultivation costs will shoot up by 4-5 times, farmers suicides will increase, crop yields will fall, and it will make a joke of PM's 'Atmanirbhar' and 'doubling of farmers income' policies," Tiwari told IANS.
Stating he would raise the issue with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Tiwari appealed to all other state chief ministers to speak out in the interests of the farmers and ensure the ban is revoked immediately.
The BIO 2020 has proposed totally prohibiting import manufacture, sale, transport, distribution, use of the 27 pesticides/insecticides in India, coming as a shock to all the major players.