Dumping endosulfan in well? On NGT's order, officials collect samples from Kasaragod's Minchipadavu

Officials from the Pollution Control Board collect soil and water samples from Minchipadavu in Kasaragod to be tested for endosulfan. Photo: Special arrangement

Kasaragod: A team of pollution control officials from the Centre, Karnataka and Kerala on Thursday collected soil and water samples from Minchipadavu, a hilly area on the Kasaragod-Karnataka border, where employees of Plantation Corporation of Kerala (PCK) allegedly dumped the banned endosulfan pesticide in a well around 20 years ago.

The officials arrived in Kasaragod on the direction of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which is hearing a petition filed by Ravindranath Shanbhogue, environmental activist and president of the Udupi-based Human Rights Protection Foundation. He said that the alleged dumping of around 600 litres of canned endosulfan in the well has contaminated the groundwater and soil not only in Kasaragod's Minchipadavu but also in Karnataka's Nettanige Mudnoor Grama Panchayat, less than 500m away.

NGT's Southern Zone in Chennai took up the petition on December 20, and Judicial Member Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayanan and expert member Satyagopal Korlapati served notices to the Union government and state governments of Kerala and Karnataka, the three pollution control boards, and also to the Kerala government-controlled PCK.

The NGT also directed "authorities to file their appropriate reports after making a spot inspection" before January 2, the date for the next hearing.

The team was led by Central Pollution Control Board (PCB) Bengaluru Regional Director J Chandra Babu and had two members from Kerala State PCB, five members from Karnataka's State PCB and Health Department, and another member from Central PCB.

Officials from the Pollution Control Board at Minchipadavu in Kasaragod. Photo: Special arrangement

On Thursday, December 2, they collected topsoil and water samples from nearby houses for testing. In the second phase, they would drill 30 to 40 feet and collect soil and groundwater samples to check if there was any seepage of endosulfan.

The team also visited the office of PCK on the estate and work shed where endosulfan was mixed. In 1978, the Plantation Corporation of Kerala started testing endosulfan, an organochlorine pesticide, to kill tea mosquito bugs on its cashew nut plantations in the Kasaragod district. From 1981, PCK started legally but unscientifically spraying endosulfan from helicopters on its plantation spread across 11 grama panchayats in the district, and stopped the aerial spraying in 2001.

Kottayam-based PCK's General Manager Justus Karuna Rajan said the corporation had not dumped endosulfan in well, and the petition was based on "fabricated lies". "When endosulfan was banned, the remaining stocks were stored in locked godowns in Periya, Rajapuram, and Cheemeni in Kasaragod district and Mannarkkad in Palakkad district, and the keys were with the district administrations," he said. "The stocks are still lying in the godowns and have not been disposed of yet," he said. The official said the PCK would apprise the NGT about the "fact" on January 2.

National Green Tribunal ordered sample collection from Minchipadavu in Kasaragod based on a petition filed by Ravindranath Shanbhogue, an environmental activist, who alleged dumping of around 600 litres of canned endosulfan in the wells. Photo: Special arrangement

When contacted, Dr Shanbhogue said his petition was based on a disclosure made by PCK's security guard Achutha Maniyani. In 2002, Maniyani said in M A Rahman's documentary 'A Paradise for the Dying' that employees of PCK buried endosulfan in a well inside the cashew estate at Minchipadavu. He said repeated the claim to reporters in June 2013 and again three years ago.

Venugopala K, an independent member of Karadka's Minchipadavu ward, said the endosulfan was disposed of in plastic and aluminum cans in the 40-ft deep well and they covered the well. "The officials who came to Minchipadavu today did not inform the panchayat and we did not know of their arrival," he said. "But if they want to know whether the endosulfan has contaminated the soil and water, they will have to take samples by drilling down in the nearby areas and from downhill," he said.

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