Mumbai (Web Desk): Twenty Indian farmers have died and hundreds of others are in hospital after inhaling poisonous pesticides while spraying crops, officials said Monday, highlighting lax safety standards in the country, local media reported.

The farmers in the western state of Maharashtra, one of India's most important agricultural regions, died after using the dangerous pesticides without wearing protective gear.

"Twenty farmers are dead and hundreds are undergoing medical treatment. Fifty are critical with damage to their eyesight," Kishore Tewari, the spokesman for a state government task force that helps farmers in distress, told AFP.

The first death was reported in August and the number of fatalities increased throughout September, according to local news reports.

They occurred in the Yavatmal region, around 670 kilometres (416 miles) from the financial capital Mumbai.

Activists blame a lack of regulations covering pesticides and a failure to provide poor farmers with proper safety equipment.

Tewari said the victims had not worn boots, masks or gloves. Victims reported experiencing blurred vision and excruciating headaches, he added.

"I don't have the money to buy protective gear and we spray pesticides without any safety kits," broadcaster NDTV quoted one farmer as saying.