Devendra Fadnavis. File pic/ PTI
With the deaths of at least 18 farmers in Maharashtra from inhaling toxic insecticide fumes sprayed in farmlands, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday ordered ordered a high-level probe to ascertain the causes and initiate remedial measures.
Besides 18 deaths, another 600 persons have been injured and undergoing treatment in Yavatmal district and surroundings due to inhaling toxic fumes of the insecticides sprayed mostly in cotton and soya fields, said Vasantrao Naik Shetkar Swavalamban Mission Chairman Kishore Tiwari.
Discussing the issue at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Fadnavis announced a compensation of Rs 200,000 to the families of the deceased farmers.
He also directed a detailed investigation by the Additional Chief Secretary, Home, and said it would be mandatory for pesticides companies to distribute special types of protective kits to prevent recurrence of similar incidents in future.
Fadnavis said district surgeons have been directed to submit the blood transfusion and autopsy reports of the deceased farmers immediately to the district collectors to aid the probe.
He added that besides the pesticide companies providing protective kits, the state government would conducted awareness drives among the farmers and even supply such safety kits, if required.
On the other hand, accusing the government of "discriminating" against farmers, Tiwari demanded a compensation of Rs 500,000 to each victim's families on the lines of the aid given to the victims of the Mumbai railway stampede.
"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.
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, 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.
He urged Maharashtra to emulate the example of Kerala where all toxic pesticides/insecticides have been banned after the state reported large number of deaths, while pesticide deaths have also been reported from Punjab and Telangana.
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