Pesticide deaths not new, went unnoticed over the years

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 11 Oct 2017 09:49:41


By Kartik Lokhande,


When a crisis becomes a matter of public debate, efforts are often made to make it look like a new phenomenon. The only intention behind this is to shun the responsibility for what had happened in the past. This is happening in case of pesticide poisoning issue. Deaths due to pesticides were reported in the past as well, but they went simply unnoticed, or worse still, ignored.

The doctors, who have spent years working in Government hospitals in rural areas, are well aware of this. However, they are not able to speak about it in the open for obvious reasons. Still, some doctors told ‘The Hitavada’ on the condition of anonymity that pesticide poisoning had been happening in rural areas for at least past four-five years. Every year, such patients got admitted to Government hospitals and got classified as ‘poisoning’ cases. The term ‘poisoning case’ does not present the true picture, said a doctor. For, he added, ‘poisoning’ could be due to snake bite also.

Dr Ashok Rathod, Dean, Shri Vasantrao Naik Government Medical College Hospital (SVNGMCH), Yavatmal, too admitted that pesticide poisoning was not a new phenomenon. In 2016, as many as 170 patients of pesticide poisoning (apart from those who consumed pesticides with an intent to commit suicide) were admitted to SVNGMCH alone, and six of them had died. This year also, deaths and injuries are being reported since July. It was only in September end that the number increased and a hue and cry was raised over the same. This year, so far, around 412 patients affected by pesticide poisoning had come to SVNGMCH between July 6 and September 30. While some patients recovered and went home, 11 farmers and farm labourers died. Of these, one death was in July and five each in July and September.

The toll continued to rise up to 20 in October as patients are being referred to SVNGMCH from other parts of the district. If one considers this, one is shocked that six deaths due to pesticide poisoning were recorded in 2016 and apparently no one bothered to take serious cognisance of the same. The dead farmers remained just numbers in the Government records. Even the number of patients of pesticide poisoning due to inhalation or contact was 170 in 2016, big enough to be taken note of. That, too, went unnoticed last year.

Sadly, it is only after the activists and media raised voice over pesticide poisoning this year that even the farmers started talking about it. Still, many farmers are not aware of the exact reasons. Many like Devidas Ghagi from Ghoddara village and Dnyaneshwar Chikte from Takalkheda village are perplexed as to why are people dying and suffering from pesticides when farmers and farm labourers have been spraying them every year, for years together.

No one gauged the seriousness of pesticide poisoning in the past. In 2016, the number of fatalities and affected persons was high. Still, there were no attempts made to educate farmers about precautions to be taken while spraying. It is only after media outcry over pesticide poisoning deaths this year that Agriculture Department has launched an awareness campaign.

Ramdas Nyahare, a farmer from Ghoddara village, said that Agriculture Department had started awareness campaign asking farmers to take precautions while spraying. The department has published pamphlets/bills in Marathi and has circulated it in villages. In some villages, the bills are pasted on walls of big houses and even at Government hospitals or healthcare centres. However, how many villagers are literate and able to read those instructions remains a big question. Besides, the precautions are too ideal to be followed in the climate and conditions of Vidarbha region.

On a positive note, the awareness campaign should still work and prevent deaths in future. However, as of now, there is need for the Government to collect data about farmers/farm labourers who had died or suffered due to pesticides in previous years and extend some relief to the affected families. Such a data pertaining to Yavatmal district is available, at least for the year 2016, with SVNGMCH. If efforts are taken, the data may become available from the network of Government hospitals in rural areas in other districts as well.
(To be continued)