Describing the deaths of farmers in Yavatmal district in Maharashtra, after they sprayed pesticide on cotton crop, as a “manmade” tragedy, the state government on Saturday named a seven-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the deaths and submit a report in three weeks. The SIT is headed by the divisional commissioner of Amravati. The government had ordered an SIT probe on Tuesday.
The government resolution (GR) mentions that the deaths of farmers was a “manmade” tragedy. The SIT probe will ascertain the exact cause of deaths and fix responsibility, states the GR and adds that the role of pesticide companies, dealers and suppliers would be thoroughly scrutinised. The scope of investigations would include fixing responsibility on government officials, the quality control department and all those organisations entrusted with the job of monitoring samples of pesticides and recommending them to farmers.
Sources said there are proper mechanisms for officials to conduct a sample study of pesticides and periodically make recommendations to farmers. In case of substandard quality of pesticides or any complaints, they are expected to recommend the withdrawal of pesticides. There are rules that disallow selling of pesticides without licence. The SIT will probe if these mechanisms and rules were violated.
Farmers in Yavatmal had reported of illness after spraying the pesticides. Initially, the complaints were reported in July. The situation became alarming after farmers exposed to the pesticides during spraying started losing their lives. While 25 farmers died, 800 were hospitalised.
Earlier, the Yavatmal district police had filed a case against a retailer for selling pesticides without licence. The government has ordered a crackdown on all companies, dealers and distributors operating without licence. The number of FIRs registered against unlicensed retailers has reached nine. The government has directed district officials to provide masks and hand gloves to farmers. An awareness campaign is also under way to ensure farmers use protective gear while spraying pesticide.