Yavatmal (Maharashtra), Oct 4 (IANS) Amid growing anger in the rural areas over the deaths of 18 farmers due to poisonous fumes of pesticides, a Maharashtra minister was targeted by an agitated farmer who attempted to spray him with a similar insecticide here on Wednesday.
The incident occurred when Minister of State for Agriculture Sadabhau Khot visited Kalam village, 30 km from here, to meet farmers grappling with a new silent killer — toxic fumes of pesticides due to prolonged exposure and lack of safety kits.
As Khot discussed the issue and advised them on safe practices, an angry farmer — identified as Sikandar Shah — allegedly rushed towards him and tried to spray him with some pesticide, but the minister escaped unscathed.
The local police moved swiftly and caught Shah, and later placed him under arrest even as other farmers protested before the minister.
Since the past couple of months, at least 18 farmers have died and over 600 affected due to inhalation of toxic insecticide fumes sprayed in cotton and soya fields in the district.
Taking note, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday ordered a high-level probe to ascertain the causes and initiate remedial measures, besides announcing a compensation of Rs 200,000 to the families of each deceased.
The Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swavalamban Mission (VNSS) Chairman Kishore Tiwari has termed the compensation as grossly inadequate and demanded Rs 500,000 for each victim’s family.
Besides Tiwari, several other farm activists have demanded enhanced compensation and termed the present amount as discrimination against the poor farmers, who are mostly tribals.
Fadnavis ordered a detailed investigation, asked the district surgeon to submit blood transfusion and autopsy reports of the deceased farmers, and also made it mandatory for pesticide companies to distribute special protective kits, besides other measures.
He added that besides the pesticide companies providing protective kits, the state government would conduct awareness drives among the farmers and even supply such safety kits if required.
“Indiscriminate and faulty use of pesticides along with wrong combinations, direct and extended exposure for long hours without protective gear for days are some of the apparent reasons why the farmers lost their lives in recent weeks,” Tiwari said.
Detailing, he said a team of experts which toured the affected farms found that the farm labourers attempted to spray a large area in a single day to earn more money and worked in multiple fields during the peak cropping seasons.
Besides, they spent 8-10 hours daily without food or water against just 3-4 hours in the morning, they took breaks to smoke or drink water without washing hands, and did not wear shirts/kurtas, exposing more body area to the toxic fumes.
“This year, the situation could worsen as the Bt.Cotton Seeds are now susceptible to attacks of Pink Worm, Thips, Mealybugs and the regular Bollworms, in over four million hectares land under cotton cultivation now,” Tiwari warned.