Plugging the Loopholes: Pesticide Deaths in Vidarbha Part 3 of our investigation reveals deaths caused by failure to train farmers in proper methods of spraying

01, Nov 2017 | Sushmita

In our previous stories concerning deaths of farmers due to toxic spray of pesticides like Monocil containing harmful phosphoric components like Monocrotophos, we investigated how the deaths occurred due to the availability of highly toxic and hazardous pesticides in the market and a flourishing pesticide industry combined with a largely unregulated market. We also discussed the callous responses from various government officials and some quick fixes that the Government proposed in the aftermath of the deaths. However, further interviews with Petitioner Jammu Anand and Input and Quality Controller Mr. Gholap pointed to another serious loophole or gap between the farmers and the latest information and technology. In this article we try to delve deeper into those areas.


An important but less studied aspect of the agricultural sector came to our notice during our investigation into the death of farmers in Yavatmal due to excessive toxic spray pf pesticides like Monocil containing harmful components like Monocrotophos. While trying to understand the missing link between the farmers and the pesticide dealers as well as the department of agriculture, we found out about the structures of Krishi Vigyan Kendras which are meant to be innovative institutions for imparting vocational training to the practicing farmers, school dropouts and field level extension functionaries.

In the financial year 1964-66, the Education Commission (1964-66) recommended that a vigorous effort be made to establish specialized institutions to provide vocational education in agriculture and allied fields at the pre and post matriculate level to cater the training needs of a large number of boys and girls coming from rural areas. This recommendation was thoroughly discussed during 1966-72 by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Agriculture, Planning Commission, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and other allied institutions and the idea of Krishi Vigyan Kendras emerged.

The KVK is mandated to do a Technology Assessment and Demonstrations for its Application and Capacity Development. Among the activities envisaged for KVKs are on-farm testing to assess location specificity of agricultural technologies under various farming systems, frontline demonstrations to establish production potential of technologies, capacity development of farmers and extension personnel, work on knowledge and resource centre of agricultural technologies for supporting initiatives of public, private and voluntary sectors, providing farm advisories through ICT ( Information and Communication Technology ) and other media feature as top priorities.

The introduction of high yielding varieties and chemical based farming helped the country in not just increasing its food production but also becoming self sufficient in food grain productions and other areas such as textiles. However this came with a drawback of severe commercialisation of agriculture whrerein increasing quantities of agro chemicals were thrown into the soil in a bid to get more production and leverage the technical breakthrough. Initially the farmers were encouraged by the government to adopt these technologies by way of more subsidies. This led to an increasing use of agro chemicals in post independence India. This is evidenced by the manifolds increase in the consumption of fertilizers and even more increase in the consumption of pesticides from 100 metric tonnes in 1951-52 to 83, 000 metric tonnes in 1993-94. Currently the consumption of pesticides is 0.5kg/ha.

Cotton is an important commercial crop grown in India over 110 to 121 lakh hectares. It has emerged as one of the major consumers of agro chemicals. And especially with the introduction of genetically modified BT Cotton, the use of agro chemicals viz., fertilizers, pesticides, weedicides etc.has increased significantly. Apart from inviting unprecedented environmental hazards, these have been affecting the lives of human beings and animals equally gravely.

Indian farmers are traditionally not new to eco farming practices but commercial farmers resort to using intensive chemical based agri products without really assessing the risks. So the lacuna here is, who is to make them aware of the harmful impacts of these pesticides?

The state of Maharashtra has 35 districts and 353 talukas and these talukas have 40, 785 villages. As per the 2011 census, it has 55.7 million rural population. Vidarbha’s Yavatmal district has 16 tahseels, 1833 villages and 13,52,000 hectares of agricultural land of which cultivable land is 8,84,000 hectares. Cotton is an important cash crop of the district and Agricultural Assistants play a key role in maintaining agricultural productivity. They are employees of the state Agricultural Department and it is their job to train farmers in agricultural best practices including safe methods to minister pesticides on their crops. It is in this context that the role of Agricultural Assistants as a link between the KVKs, Department of Agriculture and the farmers becomes important.  The single window system, as an organisational set up has agricultural assistants and krishi sevaks as the village level extension functionaries performing the role of change agents among the farmer community who undertake the responsibility of “transferring technology”.

Several studies have indicated that rural areas are highly understaffed when it comes to the post of Agricultural Assistants. A study titled, “ Job Perfofrmance of Farm Scientists From Krishi Vigyan Kendras in Maharashtra State “ by Kobba, F, Patil, V.G., Sawant, P.A., Adedapo, A.O. in 2009-2010 in the Morshi sub division of Amravati block of in indicated that agricultural assistants faced heavy work load in single window systems, their areas of operation was large, there were huge vacancies in agricultural department, there was a lack of time for completion of work, there were no regular trainings for the agricultural assistants themselves and lastly, not many perks of the jobs and under paid.

In Yavatmal, as per the data gathered by activist Jammu Anand ( Anand filed a Public Interest Litigation in the case of farmer deaths due to pesticides) from local tahseel office, only 317 agricultural assistants have been posted. This is highly limiting considering the fact that Yavatmal district has about 2000 villages. This implies that one agricultural assistant has to see 6-7 villages. In this situation, considering the fact that the training can only take place during specific seasons and not during plantation or harvesting and also keeping in mind the Rabi and Kharif crop seasons, the work pressure on agricultural assistants is tremendous. Jammu Anand feels that each Gram Panchayat should have one agricultural assistants based on his observations on the ground. This can make an impact, he says. He said that, “ Unless there is a structure, the impact can not be seen “. He further went on to say, “ When government can ensure everybody has an Aadhaar card, why is it so callous in reaching out to farmers and educating them with documentation in their local language ? Why is the government so lax in implementing small measures for farmers’ wellbeing?  This just goes on to show the Government’s complete lack of concern for the agricultural sector and the farmers. ”

MS Gholap, Director of Agriculture (Input and Quality Control), corroborated this shortage of Agricultural Assistants. Speaking to CJP, he said, “We are recruiting people but there are still many vacancies.” However, he could not give us an exact number of Assistants currently employed or the number of vacancies, once again showcasing the administration’s cluelessness about ground realities. He also claimed that despite the shortage, training was conducted periodically. However, he failed to give us any information about the number of training sessions or their planned schedule. “Sometimes we have training sessions in the harvest season where 30-50 farmers attend once session. We don’t conduct sessions for farm labourers, only farmers”, he said. Gholap went on to shrug responsibility with a feeble excuse, saying, “If one person does the work of four people, there are bound to be problems.”

In the absence of formal training, farmers are forced to rely on shopkeepers to inform them about not just pesticides. The farmers’ main concern is how to protect their crops.  Jammu Anand says, “The farmers typically just asks the shopkeepers ‘yeh istemaal kiya toh fasal bach jaegi na? (Will using this product help protect the crop?), as if the shopkeepers are phytopathologists!” He says that farmers are left at the mercy of pesticide companies and shopkeepers. Even Gholap agrees that shopkeepers have become the unofficial authority recommending pesticides to farmers

The farmer deaths due to toxic spray of pesticides, has exposed the rot in the agriculture sector of Indian economy. The link between the agricultural department, new technology and the farmers on the field is completely missing. In some cases the system is also manipulated to exploit them further like we saw in the previous story. While the expanding pesticides market is highly unregulated and fragmented, the basic minimum requirement like adequate recruitment of agricultural assistants is also not being met. Why were the authorities waiting till today to recruit the agricultural assistants? Has the recruitment been complete now? Will these recruitments help our farmers in building their capacities for better yield? These are some of the important questions we constantly need to ask and follow up.


Part-1: No One Killed Our Farmers

Part-2: Allowed to Breathe Poison in Vidarbha

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