The chief minister of Kerala, Oommen Chandy, on March 26, announced a relief package for people affected by the aerial spraying of pesticide endosulfan in Kasaragod district. The announcement came at the end of talks with activists from Endosulfan-affected People’s Front, and ended a 38 day-long hunger strike.
The relief package includes the setting up of a panel to examine the question of setting up a tribunal to provide compensation to the victims. The tribunal will aim to identify those who were responsible for the spraying of endosulfan in cashew farms in Kasaragod in the 1990s, and will also implement the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) with regard to the distribution of compensation.
Though the People’s Front alleged that the government had not accepted all their demands, the group ended the hunger strike after the announcement of the package. Environmental activist Mohan Kumar had been on fast for over a month, and was joined by two social activists, A Vasu and Moyin Bapu on March 21. After a 24-hour long fast in solidarity with Mohan Kumar, they decided to continue the strike in support of the movement after talks with the state government failed.
Chandy announced the package after a meeting with several ministers, people’s representatives, political leaders, and officials. The victims are now entitled to free treatment, ration and pension.
Chandy announced setting up a committee that would look into the liability of the pesticide companies and possibility of setting up a tribunal to identify real culprits. He said the list of endosulfan victims eligible for state assistance would be reviewed and a fresh medical examination would be conducted to include those who were left out earlier. He also clarified that those victims would be identified in 11 panchayats of Kasaragod districts as well as in nearby areas where people were exposed to the pesticide due to wind. The victims who were earlier residents of the areas under purview and have now moved away would be included as well.
According to the NHRC recommendations, 366 cancer patients and those identified at medical camps as bed-ridden or mentally challenged or disabled would be eligible for compensation. A sum of Rs 5 lakh would be granted as compensation to the kin of deceased victims of endosulfan exposure. The pension entitlement for caregivers of bed-ridden or mentally challenged patients was also increased from Rs 400 to Rs 700 a month.
Chandy also dispelled doubts regarding the duration of relief, and said that the government did not intend to limit relief to only five years. The earlier order that mentioned such a limit would be cancelled.
Chandy said that 5,500 victims would receive relief from the state. As many as 2,295 victims of endosulfan exposure have been enumerated so far, while another 3,205 victims would be re-examined by a panel of doctors to determine if they are eligible for medical assistance. Those who are deemed ineligible for relief would continue to receive state assistance.
Twelve hospitals, including Kasturba Medical College at Mangalore and Manipal, Little Flower Eye Hospital, Ankamaly, Government Ayurveda Medical College, Pariayaram and Government Homeo College, Kozhikode would be added to the list of hospitals where victims can receive free medical care.
M A Rahman, a member of Endosulfan-affected People’s Front, said that though most demands raised by the agitators had been suitably addressed, the Front remained sceptical of whether these measures would be effectively implemented by the government. “Nevertheless, considering the efforts made in addressing the concerns and maintaining trust in the democratic process, the ongoing indefinite strike was ended,” said Rahman.