Spurious pesticides kill 30 farmers, poison 600 in Maharashtra: report

A committee set up by the Maharashtra government is reported to have seized ''unauthorised pesticides'' following investigations into instances of death of at least 30 farmers in the state due to chemical poisoning.

Maharashtra is the country's second-biggest cotton producing state is investigating the deaths of cotton farmers and labourers as a dry spell led to an outbreak of crop-eating bollworm pests that thrive in such weather.

A Reuters report quoting Maharashtra agriculture minister Pandurang Fundkar said the authorities investigating the deaths caused by poisoning, have also seized stocks of unauthorised pesticides.

According to the report, these spurious pesticides, made secretly and sometimes sold in names that resemble the originals, has been on the rise throughout the country, so much so that counterfeits account for up to 30 per cent of the pesticides market annually worth more than $4 billion.

Farmers and field workers seldom follow the prescribed methods or precautions while spraying pesticides, leading to their inhaling or ingesting fatal quantities of pesticides, Fundkar was reported as saying.

Also, with the genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds approved in early 2000s losing their pest resistance, random use of pesticides has increased, according to farmers and government officials.

GM cotton seeds, developed by US biotech giant Monsanto, have helped transform India into the world's top producer and second-largest exporter of the fibre.

An severe attack by pests has forced farmers, desperate to save their investments, to aggressively use pesticides, some of which were not recommended and poisonous, according to officials.

Besides the 30-odd deaths, reports say more than 600 farmers and labourers are being treated for pesticide poisoning in hospitals over the past few months.