Since last Friday, 35-year-old Maruti Barbhate, a farmer from the Bellora village in the Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, is tied with ropes to a bed in Ward Number 12 of the Vasantrao Naik Government Medical College (VNGMC).
“It took 12 men to control him. He is not in his senses but he keeps on shaking his body with force. He owns three acres of land and cultivated Bt cotton this year. He was considered an expert in spraying pesticides on the plants in our village. On September 29, he accidentally came into contact with the pesticide and fell ill. Since then, he is tied to this bed. I had to come here to take care of him as his wife has just given birth to a baby boy and is in a hospital,” Mr. Barbhate’s sister-in-law Leela told The Hindu.
Mr. Barbhate is one of the 27 farmers currently undergoing treatment at Yavatmal’s VNGMC for infections caused by spraying pesticides on their cotton produce.
Dr. Ashok Rathod, Dean, VNGMC, said 11 farmers and farm labourers have died at the hospital in last five weeks due to infection caused by spraying pesticides in their farms. Over 472 farmers have been admitted to the hospital for the same infection in the last three months.
Five out of 27 farmers in the VNGMC remain critical and dependant on life support systems.
Chhaggan Rathod from the Dattapur village of the district also complained of uneasiness after spraying pesticide on cotton crop last week.
“One drop went into my eye and I fainted. I could not see properly for a couple of days. I was using ‘Police and Polo’ pesticide,” said Mr. Rathod.
According to Mr. Kishor Tiwari, who heads the Maharashtra government’s Task Force to curb farm distress, 19 farmers have lost their lives in the district in the last few weeks due to “improper pesticide use”, and over 1,800 farmers have been reported ill because of the same infection.
Ashok Bhutda, who owns 17 acres on the outskirts of Yavatmal city and cultivates Bt cotton, blamed the increased height of the cotton crop this year for the pesticide infection.
Lethal spray: Farmers and labourers infected due to toxic insecticides at the Vasantrao Naik Govt. hospital in Yavatmal district on Wednesday.
Bt cotton, pesticides
“This year, the cotton crop has grown up to six feet [in height], forcing farmers and farm labourers to spray above their heights, which put them at risk of coming into contact with the chemicals,” he claimed. Mr. Tiwari blamed Bt cotton and toxic pesticides for the deaths and illness of farmers, and also blamed the district authorities “for failing to educate farmers on the proper use of pesticides”.
Maharashtra’ Minister of State for Agriculture Sadabhau Khot visited Yavatmal on Wednesday and announced the formation of teams of investigating local officers for each tehsil of Yavatmal to inquire into every farmer death in the district.