Kasaragod: The state government has not conducted the special medical camp to identify endosulfan victims for the past seven years, an exercise it should have done every year.
When asked about the inordinate delay, Minister for Higher Education and Social Justice R Bindu said the government was burdened by the compensation of Rs 5 lakh paid to each endosulfan-affected person. "The government cannot endlessly expand the list of endosulfan patients," she said in a press conference at Kasaragod's Munnad village on Sunday.
When asked if that meant the government would not conduct special medical camps again, Bindu said she did not say that. She might not have said that in as many words but the government's deeds are self-explanatory.
In November 2023, the Department of Health brought out a government order that said anyone conceived after October 2011 would not be considered as 'exposed' to endosulfan because the pesticide cannot persist in the environment for more than six years. (The government counted six years from the date it notified the pesticide was banned.)
An IISc study has punctured the argument with a groundbreaking study that unexposed offspring can also be born with genetic deformities if their parents were exposed to the pesticide.
In line with the November order, the government has not conducted special medical camps to identify victims of the aerial spraying of endosulfan after April 2017. Before that, special camps were held only in 2013.
In effect, children born with physical and mental disabilities after May 2017 in affected panchayats were never examined to find whether they could be possible victims of the aerial spraying of the pesticide.
On October 2, 2022, social activist Daya Bai, who was 82 years old then, went on an indefinite hunger strike in front of the Secretariat demanding among other things, conducting medical camps.
On October 19, 2022, Minister for Health Veena George and Minister for Social Justice R Bindu gave in writing to Daya Bai that the government would conduct special medical camps in five months, that is by March 2023. Trusting the two ministers' words, the activist ended her hunger strike after 18 days. In December 2022, around 20,475 people sent their applications to be considered for the medical camps.
Now, 16 months after Daya Bai ended her hunger strike, there is no sign of a medical camp and the CPM-led government's minister is talking only of the compensation given to around 6,728 victims on the order of the Supreme Court, that too after a delay of five years. To be sure, the judgment on compensation was delivered on a petition filed by the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the youth organisation of the ruling CPM.
The state government shelled out Rs 453 crore to compensate all the endosulfan-affected persons in the government's list, said Bindu. "The Union government did not contribute when the state government fully compensated the victims. The state government incurred a big financial burden. It is a big amount for the state government," said the minister, when specifically asked why the government was delaying conducting medical camps. "The government cannot endlessly add (patients) to the endosulfan list," Bindu said.
Since January 30, a group of activists and suspected victims have been on a relay strike in Kanhangad demanding that the 1,031 persons short-listed by medical experts after the 2017 camp be included in the list of endosulfan victims. Bindu said they cannot be included without undergoing another medical examination in another medical camp. "We will have to examine if they are victims of endosulfan," she said.
So why is the government not conducting medical camps? "A decision on it has not yet come," she said.
Endosulfan Cell, dysfunctional
The Cell for Rehabilitation of Endosulfan Survivors, an important agency of the government to review and implement the programmes and projects for the survivors, has not met for more than a year.
According to a Government Order issued by the Department of Social Justice, Minister for Public Works P A Muhammad Riyas is the chairman and the District Collector is the Convenor of the Cell.
The last time the Endosulfan Cell was convened was on January 8, 2023. When asked why the Cell had not met for more than a year, Minister for Social Justice Bindu said the Cell meetings are often convened online. When reporters asked with whom and where, she said the Chief Minister called the meeting. "With Riyas, I as the Social Justice Minister and Health Minister Veena George take part in the meeting," she said. A white lie.
The Cell is a district-level agency with around 30 elected representatives, including all five MLAs and presidents of the affected panchayats, representatives of political parties, 17 officials and social workers, activists, and representatives of the affected families. Riyas, the chairman, is the only minister in the Cell.
The LDF government's disinterest in the Endosulfan Cell was evident from the time Pinarayi Vijayan won a second term. In the first term, Kanhangad MLA and CPI leader E Chandrasekharan, who was the Revenue Minister then, was the chairman of Cell. Under his leadership, the Cell used to meet once every two months.
In the second term, the Cell was not reconstituted for 16 months. On February 22, 2022, the Department of Social Justice reconstituted the Cell with Minister for Excise M V Govindan as the chairman. Under his leadership, the Cell met once in March 2022.
In August when he was elected as the CPM's state Secretary, he resigned from the Cabinet.
Govindan was replaced by Riyas, who also attended the Cell meeting once. In effect, in the two years and eight months of Vijayan's second term, the Endosulfan Cell has met only twice.