Reporting from Ground Zero, Yeovatmal: Pesticide Deaths in Kapas (Cotton)Cultivation

Written by Amir Rizvi | Published on: October 12, 2017
Photo of Father (Rajarao Vadkar  )of a farmer (Vijay Rajaram Vadkar) who is admitted patient of spray poisoning admitted 

I am in Yavatmal for an assignment and thought of finding the facts about the farmer poisoning in this area. I went to Yavatmal Govt Hospital, Sri Vasantrao Naik hospital in Yavatmal.I met Dr. Elke, medicine department, he is in-charge of briefing about the hospital/patient data. 
The dean had asked me to meet him.
Our report from Yeovatmal:
Dr. Elke said till yesterday (Wednesday October 11,2017) 445 patients have been admitted for poisoning due to chemical spaying in the farm. The first patient of poisoning came in on July 6
and to date 445 persons are admitted in this hospital, all victims of pesticide poisoning.
Eleven have so far died out of the 445 seriously ill who had been admitted. The success rate of saving lives is 98%. ( Last year though lesser number of patients came and 6 died, the survival was 96%, this year there has been a marginal improvement in saving lives)

Dr Elke said that this year it has rained better than the last year. (it is drought affected area, the rainfall was less than the requirement but more than last year).The plants grow taller 5-7 feet if rainfall is adequate and this year due to rainfall plants grew tall. (mostly cotton Kapas plants, but same chemicals are also sprayed on Tuar daal and Soyabean too). The height of plants matter: when it is at the same or the higher level than the height of the person spraying it, the particles/fumes come back to the person, and they get soaked in the chemical, being affected and vulnerable totally. 

Poisonous Pesticide

The organic Phosphorus Compound in the chemical is what caused poisoning. Most commonly Monocil (popular pesticide brand name) is used, it contains Monocrotophos, exposure (inhalation) of monocrotophos causes poisoning. It affects many vital organs in the body, and the deaths are caused due to a respiratory muscle paralysis. 
Most of the farmers know how lethal this compound is, therefore, they hire poor labourers for spraying, the labourers take up this risky spraying job in seasons because they paid more than normal wages. Hence, most of the patients admitted in this hospital are the labourers, they are from the same or nearby villages. 
There are many more poisoning cases and patients are being treated in various government and private hospitals. Total numbers can be availed from the collector or the civil surgeon. 
Every year new brands of pesticides are entering the market, some farmers who had used similar pesticides previously never had this experience. There is no awareness or standard of toxicity in similar chemicals. 
This is happening all over Vidarbha region, Dr. Elke could give data only about Yavatmal hospital. He said there is a separate data of suicides by drinking poison with poison, that is very common in Vidarbha and they regularly get such cases. 
I also met a relative of two patients who are now out of danger. 
Rajarao Wadkar has his son Vijay Rajaram Vadkar and a relative Haribhau Manik Kundekar admitted in ward no 19 of the hospital. They were lucky to reach hospital in time (on 30th sept and 1st oct), they are from Bhari Village only 9 kilometre from Yavatmal. 
The Indian Express has reported on October 8 and 9 that on October 3, two and a half months after the first death, the government ordered a probe and announced a compensation of Rs 2 lakh to families of each of the deceased. This was after court proceedings, when on October 6, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court issued notices on a PIL seeking criminal action against the officials concerned and pesticide firms. While no action has been taken against anyone so far, Minister of State for Agriculture Sadabhau Khot on Tuesday said, “Officials responsible will be made answerable.”
Cotton cultivation experts and researchers have said the cumulative effect of several factors, such as humidity, spraying of pesticide cocktails and use of a new kind of spraying machine, seem to be behind the deaths of cotton growers in Maharashtra. The number of deaths climbed to 32 on Sunday.
According to these reports, since July 19, 18 farmers have died in Yavatmal and 14 in surrounding districts in the cotton growing belt of the state. The two fresh deaths have been reported from Nagpur and Akola.