Pesticides Regulations in India and the Need for Protection Against Health Risks

This paper highlights the lacunae in the pesticide regulation law in India, weak standards of safety and protection for farmers, including provisions around training for safe use, use of personal protective equipment, proper labelling, warning signs and access to information about the risks of pesticide exposure. Foreign pesticide companies adopt double standards when operating in India due to the country’s decrepit laws. The paper also compares Indian law on pesticides and the international standards on best practices.

India enacted pesticide regulation in 1968. Since 2008, efforts are on to amend this law and update it as per the current scenario of pesticide usage. Yet, the government is baulking at bringing reforms. The Insecticides Act, 1968 and the Insecticides Rules of 1971, form the legal framework for the manufacture and use of pesticides. But this single legislation does not have adequate regulatory provisions to prevent deaths and minimise risk among farm workers, or to prevent environmental contamination and contamination of food (Reddy 2022). Pesticides (insecticides, fungicides, herbicides/weedicides, plant growth regulators) are used in India for agriculture, public health, household use, industrial/construction sector uses. Pesticides are toxic and need management and regulation encompassing all important stages in their life cycle, from manufacture, import, packaging, labelling, pricing, storage, advertisement, sale, transport, distribution, use and disposal in order to ensure the availability of safe and effective pesticides, and to strive to minimise risk to human beings, animals, living organisms other than pests, and the environment. Presently, there is no mechanism for the periodic check on the registered pesticides as per development in toxicology (Chari 2008).


The present law is to be replaced by the Pesticide Management Bill which recently was sent back to the Lok Sabha by the Standing Committee with suggestions.[1] The Pesticide Management Bill (PMB), 2020 has several lacunae concerning pesticide registration, worker protection, protection of end users of pesticides and immunity to pesticide business and promotion. This bill regulates pesticides and lays down procedures for license and registration; it was drafted with the intent of “preventing risk to humans and animals.” However, when one tries to delve into the question of how the law safeguards people and animals against risks of exposure to hazardous chemicals, it is evident that the law fails to provide any protection. In fact, the law enables pesticide companies to carry on business without any accountability for the risks that these products pose to their primary and secondary users.  Globally, there are 11,000 deaths a year due to accidental poisoning. Out of these, 6,600 are in India, and yet, the Indian law does not provide safeguards to ensure the safety of her farmers.[2] 

Law for Protection of Human Health

The Indian regulatory framework provides for a procedure through which companies can register chemicals and obtain licences for the manufacture, import and sale of pesticides.  The Central Insecticides Board has the power to grant or reject such an application. The act provides for the registration procedure but it does not clearly provide for a mechanism to challenge the registrations granted. The state governments have limited power to regulate pesticides. They may issue or revoke licences to companies to manufacture, sell, stock or exhibit for sale or distribute pesticides for a limited period. The act permits states to ban a pesticide for 60 days if a safety concern arises, with 30-day extensions in some cases. This means that even if there is imminent danger to the lives of farmers due to use of a certain pesticide, it still remains available for 60 days. Further, implementation of ban on pesticide for such a short period, has challenges of its own.

The only way to challenge the violation of these rules laws is to approach the CIBRC (Central Insecticides Board Registration Committee) or the Consumer Court, both of which are very difficult to access for the farmers or farm workers due to long drawn procedures and expenses involved in legal action (Bonvoisin et al 2020).

Grievance Mechanisms

Pesticide is a unique product because of its hazardous nature and necessity. Because of this, pesticides have to be regulated and monitored to prevent misuse, abuse and accidental exposures. Pesticide regulation in India does not have a grievance redressal mechanism. Pesticide users have to endure exposure and risk to their lives. However, law and policy with regard to pesticides are completely silent about mechanisms that facilitate users to access knowledgeable information and trained resources in case of accidents and mishaps. Third-party grievances wherein persons who might be exposed to pesticides in their life, due to work or under any other circumstances, do not have access to legal grievance mechanisms.


Pesticides, including insecticides, herbicides and fungicides, pose health risks to people, wildlife and other organisms, in the form of neurological health issues, hormone disruption and related ill health, impaired reproductive health, cancers, etc, among others (Nicolopoulou-Stamati et al 2016). Despite such serious issue of concern, and occupational and suicidal exposure to pesticides being common in India, regulation fails to provide a grievance redressal mechanism.

Information and Data Collection

The Collection of Statistical Act (2008) and pesticide regulation do not mandate information and data collection on pesticide usage and its impact on people, environment and ecology.[3] The National Crime Records Bureau collects information on the number of pesticide poisoning cases, under the Code of Criminal Procedure. However, there are challenges in such limited responsibility shouldered by NCRB (Reddy 2016). Only deaths from institutional sources, which get recorded as medico-legal cases, become part of NCRB data. Regular pesticide exposures, including chronic and acute impact cases, are not collected. Lack of mandatory statistical legal requirements is causing wide gaps in data collection from hospitals and medical care centres in India. Non-institutional pesticide exposures and deaths usually do not get counted at all. Untimely deaths, caused by pesticide exposure, require post mortem to ascertain the cause of death. The process of Medically Certified Cause of Deaths (MCCD) has a number of lacunae and gaps.


Parliamentary Standing Committee[4] flags the issue of data protection for the introduction of new pesticides, primarily aimed at protecting the business interests of the manufacturer. However, it ignored the need for data generation at the experiential and user level (Reddy 2016.)


The use of pesticides has intensified in the last decade.[5] The marketing and promotion of pesticides is done in such a way that the farmers now believe that the only way for a good crop is to use more and more pesticides. Consequently, pesticides are being used indiscriminately.[6] The companies neither follow the international guidelines nor their own policies with regard to training and access to information.[7] Around 5,85,130 farmers have been given Integrated Pest Management trainings conducted by the government (Plant Protection Department, Ministry of farmers and agricultural welfare) through farm schools since 1994-95 to 2020-21,[8] which is a dismal number for a nation with a population of  approximately 150 million farmers.

As per the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management: Guidelines on Highly Hazardous Pesticides, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation/World Health Organization (“the code”), the government and the industry are obligated to provide training and access to information not only to farmers but the retailers, However, there is very limited effort from the government and industry in this regard. There is evidence to show that the companies as well as the government allow the use of hazardous pesticides in violation of the code.[9] However, Indian law does not mandate the companies or the government to ensure adequate training for individual farmers or the retailers. In several cases it has been seen that the retailers of pesticides are the ones who are the only point of contact of the farmers for information, and they sometimes end up receiving misleading information.[10]

Personal Protective Equipment


The 2020 version of the PMB is not inclusive of safety of pesticide users. This gap is glaring considering that pesticide poisoning is increasing across India.[11] Apparently, pesticide legislation in India is now taking a retrogressive path by not incorporating provisions to address the user safety issues in the reality of usage conditions in the country, when more than a 50-year-old legislation is undergoing revision. Protection of pesticide users was part of the 1968 Insecticide Act and also the draft PMB 2017 version. The PMB 2020 does not include the purpose of minimising risk to users, despite occupational poisoning incidents reported across India.  The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential for preventing risk to users. Hence, in a country like India, where the majority of the pesticide users in the agriculture sector belong to small-scale farmers and unorganized rural workforce, pesticide application should be allowed only with the recommended precautions. It is relevant to note that when the pesticide poisoning incidents were reported four years back in the cotton belt of Maharashtra,[12] Telangana and Tamil Nadu, victims were blamed for not taking precautionary measures and not using protective gears.

PPE during the handling of pesticides is essential for safeguarding against exposure and has been mandated under the code. Even though there has been scattered discourse over the effectiveness of PPEs, there is consensus that to some extent PPEs are able to protect the users against health risks. In India, the use of PPEs is not very common as there are several challenges that the farmers face when trying to use PPEs. Firstly, the hot tropical climate in India discourages them from using PPEs as it causes discomfort. Secondly, lack of availability of affordable and climate suitable PPEs is another challenge. Lastly, access to appropriate information and awareness about the health impacts of exposure (Singh et al 2009) are other reasons which lead to limited use of PPEs. This consequently leads to exposure to dangerous chemicals which lead to acute and chronic illnesses.

The act and the rules do not mandate the companies to provide free and affordable PPEs, or develop PPEs specific for the Indian climate, and spread awareness about the risks of not using PPEs among retailers and farmers. The code provides that the government and the companies must promote use of PPEs which are appropriate to the prevailing climatic conditions and affordable[13] and should avoid marketing pesticides whose handling and application require the use of personal protective equipment that is uncomfortable, expensive or not readily available, especially in the case of small-scale users and farm workers in hot climates.[14] However, the Indian law does not mandate any such safeguards to be adopted by the companies and the companies do not adhere to the international standard when doing business in India.

The International Labour Organization has stressed one of the fundamental principles of occupational health and safety is that PPE should be considered as the last line of defence, after other measures have been taken. Collective protection systems should be put in place before PPE (Garrigou et al 2020).  Adequate provisions for protecting users are necessary in the legislation, with a mandatory role for the pesticide industry to provide good-quality, recommended, adequate personal protective equipment for use along with their products, and to provide necessary training and awareness creation on the risks of pesticide use.


The labelling practices followed by the companies when doing business in India do not adhere to international or domestic standards. The labels are sometimes incomplete and warnings in around 10-12 languages are fitted into a small leaflet attached to the bottle with the small font size in violation of the rules. The insecticides rules lay down the standards with regard to packaging and labelling however, these standards are not followed. International guidelines provide[15] that companies must provide pesticides of adequate quality, packaged and labelled as appropriate for each specific market[16]  and ensure packaging and labelling in order to minimise risks, use clear and concise labelling.[17] The Consumer Protection law which includes farmers under the definition of “consumers” is never used by them to sue the companies for the violations of law. These violations put the health of farmers and their families at extreme risks, and could result in acute and chronic illnesses, or even death.[18]  The consumer protection law lays down provisions for bringing legal action against illegal business practices for example when the product is not effective, falsely advertises or fails to provide adequate information in case of hazardous product.[19]

At present, there are several public interest litigations pending before the Supreme Court, seeking reliefs such as a better pesticide regulatory mechanism, banning highly hazardous pesticides,  banning spraying of pesticides in close proximity of schools and many other such reliefs. While the Supreme Court is “monitoring” the situation,[20] this issue is still pending before expert committees appointed to decide on the banning and other regulations. It is by far clear that the actions on behalf of the government remain long overdue. The draft bill can be supported by a policy that focuses on sustainable agriculture production without harming the environment, ensuring farmer and worker safety as well as safe food production, by gradually eliminating use of toxic pesticides. A path for such elimination can be laid by encouraging adoption of non-chemical pest management based on agroecology principles in realisation of precautionary principle and assuring the rights guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Moreover, national pesticide regulation should reflect internationally accepted criteria standards and guidelines as well.

Presently, pesticide companies continue to profit in a market of misinformed farmers through a government that has decided to look the other way and has failed to bring about comprehensive law that focuses on the safety of farmers and end users. Given that two-thirds of the global deaths due to pesticides exposure are happening in India, the government needs to pull up its socks and ban pesticides that are banned in manufacturing countries for being harmful to health and environment. Holding companies accountable for their malpractices and making them pay for the loss of health, longevity and life of farmers cannot be stressed enough.  The PMB must include provision for training of farmers for safe use, adequate information on overuse and effects of exposure and availability of climate suitable PPE and clothing free of cost. The companies must be held responsible for providing inadequate and misleading information and advertising due to which the health of farmers is severely affected. Conscious reduction in use of chemicals in agriculture and replacing it with agroecological farming methods is vital. Reduced dependence on pesticides and a proper legal framework are the only ways forward to effect some long term changes in farming.



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