State agriculture minister Pandurang Phundkar said the report of the special investigation team (SIT), constituted for probing into pesticide inhalation deaths, will be tabled before the winter session ends.
“The report has been put up before chief minister Devendra Fadnavis for his scrutiny. In any case, it would be tabled before the house during the current session,” Phundkar told TOI during an informal conversation.
Poisoning due to accidental inhalation of pesticides has led to 44 deaths in Vidarbha. The highest toll has been in Yavatmal district, infamous for farmer suicides. The minister also blamed rampant use of plant growth regulators for the incidents. He said the chemicals have led to abnormal growth of cotton crop. One of the theories is that due to excessive height of the cotton crop, fumes of pesticides fell on workers’ face while spraying, leading to deaths. On the pink bollworm attack, Phundkar said pest infestation was not at the level of a crisis. “The crisis is only a creation of the opposition. In fact, cotton production was higher than the last year,” he said.
According to figures quoted by Phundkar, market arrivals of cotton from October to December this year have exceeded previous year’s count for the same period by over 4 lakh quintals. This year, the total arrivals till the first two weeks of December stand at 98.31 quintals, the minister said.
“The arrivals in the month of November 2017 are double as compared to November 2016 at 40.95 lakh quintals. During December 2016, 70 lakh quintals of cotton reached the markets. This year, the figures collected till December 11 show arrivals at 53 lakh quintals. Over a fortnight remains for the month to end,” said Phundkar.
“Figures show that cotton output is higher than the last year. I came across a farmer in Akola district who has harvested 600 quintals in his 80-acre farm. He is expecting another 800 quintals of yield through further picking. In my own constituency of Buldhana, the impact of bollworm is not in more than 5% of the area. The opposition’s claims are hyped,” he said. So far, 5 lakh farmers have filed complaints about Bt seeds failing against bollworm, said Phundkar. Kishore Tiwari, a former farmers’ activist and now the chairman of the state government think-tank Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swavalamban Mission (VNSSM), has countered Phundkar’s claims.
He said the figures are misleading as the cotton crop has almost exhausted. “Not much is expected to reach the markets after this. Last year, the total arrivals in the state stood at 388 lakh quintals. A year before, it was 297 lakh quintals. This year, the total arrivals are expected to be around 200 lakh quintals,” Tiwari said. “If we consider the incremental area of 10 lakh hectares which came under cotton this year, then the yields have been halved in 2017,” said Tiwari. He said the government’s plan to get compensation from seed companies for the bollworm attack is impractical. The companies can also challenge the move in the courts, he added.