NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court Friday banned the production, distribution and use of endosulfan, saying that big companies, including those of the government, could not be oblivious of their corporate social responsibility.
Endosulfan is pesticide that is widely used in agriculture, particularly for rice and cotton crops, and its use has a debilitating effect on humans and the environment.
"When these companies start production and make huge investments, don't they look for human considerations", asked an apex court bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Panickar Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar.
"Nobody is doing business for a loss. Yet there is something like corporate social responsibility," said Kapadia, adding that what was being said about the private companies was equally valid for the government companies.
Kapadia said: "Xost is not the only point. Risk (to health) is a serious concern. If one child is likely to be affected (by the use of endosulfan), then the ban can't wait for six weeks." He said that a "ban is a reversible situation whereas health impairment is irreversible".
The court observation came in the wake of a plea by the senior counsel Mukul Rohtagi that the production of endosulfan was going on for last 40 years and if the proposed ban was postponed by six weeks, noting would happen. Rohtagi appeared for one of the manufacturers of endosulfan
Questioning the court's move to ban endosulfan, Rohtagi argued that companies were given licences to produce endosulfan under an act which also provides a scheme for the revocation of these licences. Was it proper, in such situations, for a court to ban the production, he asked.
At this, Kapadia said that it (the apex court) will address this question in its judgment in case relating to French cement major Lafarge being barred from carrying out mining activities in the hills of Meghalaya. One judgment, Kapadia said will deal with Lafarge on facts and the other with Lafarge on law.
He said if the plea advanced by Rohtagi was accepted, then all the country's forests will be wiped out as people will say that they have sanction under the state statute and they can clear forests and the court can't interfere.
Kapadia said that under Article 21 of the constitution, which guarantees protection of life and personal liberty, the court could override a state statute in guarding the interests of the people.
Even Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium, who is amicus curiae in the case, told the court that in the wake of widespread use of endosulfan in rice and cotton cultivation and absence of cost-effective alternatives, the court could wait for banning the pesticide.
He told the court that already two committees, one headed by the head of the Indian Council For Medical Research and the other bythe Agricultural Commissioner was looking into the harmful effects, if any, of endosulfan.
Passing the ad-interim order banning the endosulfan, the court said: "Keeping in mind the various judgments of this court under Article 21 of the constitution and in the precautionary principles, we hereby pass an ad-interim order banning the production and use of endosulfan all over India."
It directed the government to freeze the permits given to the manufacturers of the pesticide.
The court said that two committees undertaking the study of endosulfan should be made an expert body which will go into the matter and give an interim report to the court in six weeks. The court said that study should be comprehensive, spread all over the country and give details on the use of pesticide areas wise and region wise.
The court said the interim report should state whether endosulfan should be banned. If so, how the existing stocks should settled in phases and whether there was any cost effective alternative to endosulfan.
The court passed its orders on a petition by the Democratic Youth Federation of India.
The petition said the use of the pesticide for optimizing agricultural production was creating an alarming danger to the health and safety of human beings in general and the environment.