Hundreds of farmers in Yavatmal district have taken ill after inhaling insecticide spray and the Government Medical College (GMC) at Yavatmal has confirmed seven deaths from fumigation over the past two months. “Excessive fumigation due to widespread infestation of pink bollworm and sucking pests on Bt cotton has taken a heavy toll on farmers in Yavatmal with eight farmers dying and four rendered blind,” said Kishor Tiwari, chairman of the special state government task force on agriculture, Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swawlam-ban Mission, in a press note.
Tiwari has demanded criminal action against the officials concerned as well as the companies selling the insecticides. “Do the extension machinery of the government as well as the companies selling these insecticides have no responsibility in educating farmers on how they should do such fumigation safely,” said Tiwari, while speaking to The Indian Express.
Ashok Rathod, dean of the Yavatmal GMC, confirmed large-scale admission of patients affected by the spraying. “Over the past three months, over 300 patients have been admitted, 231 of them this month alone,” he said.
In August, 114 farmers were admitted. The deaths took place over August-September. The victims are Dashrath Chavan (50) from Naygaon in Darwha tehsil; Devidas Madavi (52) from Kalamb; Kailash Pendor (45) from Jamni in Patan; Ayub Sheikh (30) from Kalgaon in Digras tehsil; Anil Chavan (24) from Kalamb; Ramesh Chirawar (45) from Ghatanji and Ravi Rathod (35) from Uchegaon in Yavatmal.
B S Yelke, head of the medicine department at the Yavatmal GMC, said, “It has happened mainly through inhalation and skin.” He confirmed seven deaths. Asked if there were cases of blindness, he replied in the negative.
Asked which insecticide was responsible, Yelke said, “It’s mostly monosil mixed with some other chemicals.” Yavatmal Collector Rajendra Deshmukh has sought a report on the issue.
Patients have suffered from vomitting, giddiness, loose motion and difficulty in breathing. Reports claimed many patients had been admitted to private hospitals too. Deshmukh said, “We have reports of some patients being treated in primary health centres too. I have asked the civil surgeon to collect data on them as well as from private hospitals if any.”
Asked if there were any deaths other than the ones in government hospitals, he said, “It will be known only after we get the information from private hospitals. But there have been no deaths in PHCs as far as my information goes.”
At the Yavatmal GMC, as on Thursday, there are 66 patients undergoing treatment, of whom six are on ventilator. This means a large number of patients have so far been successfully treated and sent home.
Asked if there are similar reports from other districts of Amravati division, such as Amravati, Buldana, Washim and Akola, Deputy Director of Health Services Nitin Ambadekar said, “We don’t have such reports from these districts.”
Subhash Nagre, Divisional Joint Director (Agriculture) of Amravati, said, “Due to the retreating monsoon’s last good spell, the cotton crop is standing five-feet tall. Moreover, this time the crop has been sown mostly in monocrop pattern, that is only Bt cotton has been sown with no rows of pulses and jowar as an inter-crop in between. Due to the extra height gained by the crop and its high density, farmers have to fumigate at the level of their head, which has apparently caused the damage. Moreover, farmers don’t take the precaution of covering their faces with a cloth while fumigating. So, we are now undertaking a campaign to spread awareness on the issue.”
Nagre also pointed out that the latest sprayers and sprinklers have very fine holes that spray very minute droplets. These get easily swayed by the slightest wind and can enter the nose and skin.
Asked if the problem was restricted to only Yavatmal and, if yes, why, Nagre said, “For now, we have reports only from Yavatmal. We are also wondering why only Yavatmal. We will find out the reasons in detail.”
He, however, added, “Yavatmal received the least amount of rainfall among all the districts of Amravati division – about 63 per cent. Some tehsils like Maregaon, Ralehgaon, Ghatanji and Kalamb were particularly affected. The dryness in the weather may have caused greater damage in these areas from where most patients were reported.”
Whether the infestation of pink bollworm and sucking pests was very large this time, Nagre said, “It’s not very large but sporadic.”