‘There is risk, but what else can I do?’

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 08 Oct 2017 09:45:06


By Kartik Lokhande,

NO RISK is bigger than a crisis. Laxmi, whose husband Vasanta Chidam is one of the victims of ‘spraying deaths’ in Yavatmal district, is a person who has realised this the hard way. In the region where the words insecticide and pesticide are used interchangeably, the deaths are now coming to be known simply as ‘spraying deaths’.

Sitting on the threshold at the entrance to her small hut-like house on an encroached piece of land in Maregaon, Laxmi knows that her life will be hard. She looks at her two sons Rahul, 17-year-old and a school dropout, and Roshan, who is studying in Class VII, and then glances at the framed photograph of her late husband.

Vasanta, 45-year-old, was a farm labourer. Towards the end of the month of August, he had gone to work on a farm as a daily-wage worker. There, he sprayed pesticide on cotton crop and returned home in the evening. Later, as Laxmi recalls, he suffered from loose motions. She took him to Rural Hospital in Maregaon, where doctors gave him saline and tablets. As he felt good in a day, the hospital discharged him.

However, Laxmi recollects, Vasanta started vomiting the
next day and then felt dizzy. So, he was again taken to the hospital. As his condition deteriorated, the doctors referred him to Yavatmal. “As no one was there to accompany me, we shifted him to Sugam Hospital in Wani,” she says. However, Vasanta did not respond to the treatment even after being kept in an ICU for eight days. On September 8, he breathed his last. The medical certificate mentions ‘cardio-respiratory arrest, inhalation poisoning, multiple organ failure’ as the cause of the death.

A strong smell of pesticide welcomes a visitor to Chidam’s house even today as if the spectre is still haunting the family. Now facing a livelihood crisis, Laxmi has got no choice but to keep working as a farm labourer.
After Vasanta’s death due to inhalation of pesticide on farm, isn’t she afraid of working in farm? “Yes. I am afraid of working on farm. There is risk, but what else can I do to feed my children and take care of Roshan’s education,” Laxmi asks a pertinent question in reply.

As per the latest announcement, Vasanta Chidam’s family may get help from the Government from Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. However, how far will that money last? A death of the bread-earner has shattered the future of the family.
Sadly, instead of going to the root of the problem, efforts are being made as to how carelessness on part of the farmers or farm labourers is the sole reason behind ‘spraying deaths’.

According to Kishor Tiwari, Chairman of Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swawalamban Mission, there are several root causes - unregulated sale and use of pesticides/insecticides, failure of BT Cotton in reducing dependence on chemicals, collapse of Public Health Department, lack of alertness on part of Agriculture Department, and wrong agriculture policies implemented in the country in last 30 years.
“Since it is very difficult to address all these causes, some are blaming the carelessness of farmers and farm labourers for what is happening now in Yavatmal and other districts of Vidarbha region,” he adds.

Though the Government machinery appears to have come out of slumber and ministers or top officers are visiting ‘ground zero’ of the ‘spraying deaths’, there are hundreds of farmers and farm labourers who are critical and undergoing treatment at various Government and private hospitals. They continue to reflect a sad situation - if they are careless in such big numbers either they are ignorant or companies and agricultural input dealers and Agriculture Department put together have failed in making them aware of the potential hazards.

Taking a cue from these deaths and those battling for life, will safety measures be put in place? Will there be immediate action to make the farmers and farm labourers aware of the potential hazards of pesticide spraying?
Will there be change that will reduce the risk associated with livelihood, for Laxmi Chidam and widows like her?
(To be continued)