Nagpur: After a US federal court on Friday ordered biotech giant Monsanto to pay a compensation of $289 million to Dewayne Johnson, a ground-keeper in a school at San Francisco, for having got cancer after using glyphosate, activists in India are demanding that the controversial chemical should be banned at home. In rupee term, the amount translates into nearly Rs2,000 crore.
Glyphosate, which goes into making of weedkillers, is largely used by cotton-growers of Vidarbha and other parts of the state. In India, it also linked with smuggling of illegal herbicide tolerant (HT) cotton seeds on which glyphosate is used.

Monsanto is a major manufacturer of glyphosate-based weed killers. Even the HT seeds are based on technology developed by Monsanto. Mahyco, the Indian partner of Monsanto, had sought a permission to sell HT seeds but withdrew from trials. As a result, HT seeds still have not been approved in the country. The seeds are, however, available through illegal means. Farmers prefer HT seeds which also prompt use of glyphosate. By spraying glyphosate-based weedkillers, the overgrowth in fields need not be cleared physically, which saves a major labour cost to farmers. Cotton grown from HT seeds is tolerant to glyphosate.

Activists with whom TOI spoke to said it’s time that the authorities in India wake up and go ahead with banning glyphosate. States like Andhra Pradesh and Telangna have already imposed restrictions on its sale during the cotton growing season. If glyphosate is banned during the cotton season, even the smuggling of illegal HT cotton seeds is expected to be affected. For a permanent ban, an order has to come from the centre.

Kathiva Kuruganthi of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) said, “Finally, there is evidence that glyphosate is carcinogenic. The chemical is responsible for other congenital disorders too. Certain pockets have been identified in South America where the users have been affected with such diseases,” said Kuruganthi,

“Our organization has already filed a petition with the ministry of agriculture with thousands of signatures seeking the ban on glyphosate. However the government has not taken any action so far,” she said.

Dr C D Mayee, former director of Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), said there are 180 publications which have maintained that glyphosate is safe. It is being used since last 40 years and allowed even in the European Union. The decision is not final as Monsanto will be appealing against the federal court ruling.

Vandana Shiva, also an activist who has been involved in other petitions against said even imported food products have the risk of carrying glyphosate as the chemical is found to have been used in food crops too.

Veteran Shetkari Sangathana leader Vijay Jawandhia said this proves that glyphosate can be as harmful as tobacco. Even tobacco can cause cancer but not all who consume it suffer from the disease, yet measures like banning Gutka have been take. Similar steps can be taken for glyphosate too, he said.

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