In Ecological And
By Umendra Dutt
27 August, 2007
the last three months, our visits to over 100 villages in Malwa region
of Punjab have left us upset and speechless. Each one of these villages
where my colleagues from Kheti Virasat Mission (KVM) and I spent time
is in severe health crisis. During our visit, we noted that there was
not a single village which has not witnessed cancer deaths in last five
years. I might not be and "expert" in the scientific sense;
but being one who believes in nature's glory, it is evident to me that
that this present scenario is clearly a result of the environmental
devastation caused by green revolution agriculture technologies and
nature abusive developmental paradigm.
The village visits were at
different points of time. For instance, during KVM's Water Literacy
Yatra during third week of July we visited 21 villages in six districts
Ferozepur, Faridkot, Muktsar, Bathinda, Mansa and Sangrur and interacted
with farmers from around 50 villages. KVM had also did a preliminary
survey in 55 villages of Faridkot district and apart from this we had
an interaction with farmers in nearly 18 village or cluster level workshops
on natural farming in Malwa.
Every where there is same
miserable story; one can get the sorrow tales in whole of Malwa region,
once called Makheon meetha Malwa The Malwa - sweeter then honey. But
now things have been changed drastically.
What is most astonishing
is dance of death by cancer every where. Every village has faced cruelty
of deaths- young, old, married, single, man, women, rich, poor, farmer,
laborer – there is no distinction. Even children are not spared.
No discrimination at all. The death count starts from 4-5 and goes upto
60 or even more in a single village and one can find same number of
cancer patients too.
What is important to note
is also that cancer does not just bring death to a family but also carries
burden of debt. Several farmers are forced to sell piece of their lands
to get their wards treated properly. But then it is not just cancer
which is chasing the people and their prosperity. We met large number
of teenagers with gray hair, joint pains and other ageing abnormalities.
It is very dark to see teenagers of fourteen and fifteen years developing
such ageing effects. We also came across the several cases of childhood
I have no words to spell
the feeling which has shaken my spine during interface with youth.
Then there are diseases related
to reproductive health, with women being the worst victims. The number
of childless couples was also found to be alarmingly high. There is
a related social baggage with this, as it is the women who have to bear
the sufferings and is blamed for not being able to bear children. Most
people don't even know what went wrong in last few years and beyond
We also met quite large number
of kidney patients, mentally challenged children, diabetic patients
and young males with infertility in these villages. Most of people feel
that the general graph of health is slumped significantly. They also
added that despite their being hardly any medicine shop and hospital
in the area, the number of diseases and death toll was much less earlier
Aged people have seen the
link. Interestingly, we found that their general perception was that
all this doom began after introduction of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
It is important to talk about
this issue with reference to whole of Punjab or Malwa in this regard.
Talking about a single village like Jajjal, Gyana or Mal Singh Wala
will only present a distorted picture. When disease, death, debt and
displacement become far-reaching and wide, one cannot help but delve
into the gravity of the crisis. The fact is that whole of Malwa is on
brink of ecological and environmental health collapse, which ultimately
will lead to a severe economic, social and civilizational calamity.
Today, Punjab needs a fresh
thinking and bold initiatives to deal with this reality. The present
government needs to look beyond stereo-typed solutions. Here are few
suggestions for that:
I. Research Project on Pesticide
consumption and residue: As Punjab has one of highest levels of pesticide
consumption in India, it subsequently has the highest pesticide load
on its people and eco-system. Punjab is already facing severe adverse
impacts of agro-chemicals used in last four decades. Now at this crucial
juncture, the Punjab Government should take bold steps to ensure a safe
environment and eco-system to the future of generations of Punjab. For
this the Government should:
1. Complete a detailed study
on pesticide consumption patterns in Punjab.
2. Ban aggressive marketing
of pesticides including all forms of advertisements, publicity and promotion
schemes for pesticides and other agro-chemicals. This needs to go along
with a stop on all incentives given to the pesticide and agro-chemical
3. Raise awareness about
the dangers of pesticide use through well-financed education campaigns.
These must ensure the dissemination of information on ill effects of
pesticides to all users.
4. The government should
evolve an action plan for the immediate and time-bound phasing out of
the most deadly pesticides: class I a, I b and II
5. The vital task of properly
compiling residue data, already generated by the agriculture universities.
II. Epidemiological and environmental
Mapping of Punjab : The first and foremost thing the government should
do is to undertake a widespread and multicentric epidemiological and
environmental mapping through an extensive study and participatory research,
to assess the magnitude and specificity of ill-health especially due
to contamination of food, water and air with pesticides and other chemical
inputs of agriculture. At present there are no statistics available
to know the type of health problems being caused by these poisonous
agriculture inputs . In addition to that industry is shamelessly throwing
its toxic waste in the water bodies-rivers, canals, seasonal drains,
sewers and even in the groundwater through pits, wells and tube wells
etc. Burning of fossil fuels is the third devil in this context. Strangely
there is either no monitoring for these criminal acts or if it is there,
no remedial action is taken. The latest revelations about gross pollution
of Kali Benin, Buddha Nalah, Sutlej River and ground water of Ludhiana
are well known. The people have a right to know the type and extent
of damage being done to our water bodies by the polluting industry.
We also want to know what type of health problems are being caused by
these acts. But unfortunately there are no research/statistics to know
all these vital facts.
This is particularly true
about the long term and chronic ill-effects of these poisons like falling
body immunity, increasing prevalence of various types of cancers, increasing
incidence of spontaneous abortions, congenital abnormities in the new
born children and many more.
The existing infrastructure
of the health department for the collection, compilation and analysis
of data about various diseases is very poor. This is even truer about
these newer problems being caused by the toxic effects of various chemical
The statistics regarding
acute poisoning which is also very common are available to some extent.
But here also, the reported cases of acute poisoning are only a fraction
of the total problem. The reason being that because of the police harassment
and social stigma associated with poisoning, people don't come to the
government hospitals because they are bound to report to the police
(it is worth mentioning here that otherwise also only 25% of the sick
people come to government hospitals for treatment).Private hospitals
are not reporting such cases- neither to police nor to the health department.
If the patient survives it is fine and if he or she dies it is silently
cremated. It is an open secret that accidental acute poisoning because
of the pesticides is quite common because the prescribed precautions
are rarely followed while spraying or handling these insecticides.
These are newer health problems
not taught to the doctors by standard textbooks. There is an urgent
need to sensitize and train health professionals to identify such health
problems and then to evolve the ways to treat, mitigate and educate
the people to take preventive measures. This will be possible only if
our doctors know the epidemiology of these diseases. To do that, we
need public health specialists, who have been fully sensitized to these
health problems. We should put at least one such epidemiologist in each
district and appoint a team of senior and experienced epidemiologists
at the state level to analyze the data and evolve a strategy for the
entire state. As there are increasing numbers of reports that the prevalence
of cancers has increased significantly, particularly in the cotton belt,
the health department should spread awareness to make the cancer easily
detectable and should make a cancer registry compulsory in all government
and private hospitals.
III. Institute for Environmental
Health Research and Studies : Considering the urgency of the situation,
and also to act as a research support centre for the Environment Commission
and for conducting the environmental audit etc., it is proposed that
an Institute for Environment Health Research and Studies be setup. An
eminent environmental epidemiologist of international repute and experience
must head the institute; with its headquarters preferably at an area
worst affected with acute environmental health problems, like Bhatinda.
The institute should have regional centers in various regions of the
state, and must work collaboratively with environmental, health and
IV. Environmental Health Crisis Mitigation Task Force : Even while the
assessment is being done, an environmental health crisis of this intensity
can only be mitigated by large scale community intervention and participation.
The Punjab government should form an Environmental Health Crisis Mitigation
Task Force under the aegis of Institute for Environmental Health Research
and Studies with the majority participation from NGOs and farmer groups.
A senior Epidemiologist or Environmentalist should head this task force
with powers minimum of the secretary rank of the government. This task
force should be constituted by taking members from medical fraternity,
social activists, and teachers of life sciences, farmers and experts
from various governmental departments. The primary work of this task
force would be to prepare and implement a Comprehensive Relief and Remedial
Programme in the acutely affected areas. The entire medical fraternity
and medical students must be involved in this programme to rejuvenate
the health of the community. The medical fraternity needs to be sensitized
and for that the syllabi of medical studies must be suitably augmented
to include specific content on toxicology and contemporary issues.
V. Declare ecological and
environmental health emergency in South Malwa: The southwestern Malwa
region has been identified as facing the most severe environmental health
crisis. The use of toxic chemicals is the highest in this belt. This
entire area should be treated as a toxic hot spot. To focus its efforts,
the government must declare and impose immediately the state of ecological
and environmental health emergency in the entire belt. For this, specially
drawn plans are needed with a specific focus on natural and organic
farming, with adequately allocated funds for the targeted problem.
Establishment of cancer detection
and Cancer Hospital in Malwa: Since cancer has emerged as a major health
problem of Punjab, establishment of cancer detection centers and cancer
treatment centers is the need of the state. For this, urgent funds may
be provided to all medical colleges in the state to establish oncology
departments. Post Graduate Institute for Medical Education and Research
Chandigarh may be provided funds and asked to supervise establishment
of these departments and to provide oncology physicians and surgeons
and technical manpower for running the support facilities. In addition
to this, Cancer Hospital must be established in Malwa to provide comprehensive
advanced care to cancer patients. Presently there is no such center
in this part of the country. Patients have to go to neighboring Bikaner
and other places for basic treatment of cancer. At the same time, its
oncology department may be expanded and upgraded to act as apex referral
institution in the line of Tata Memorial Hospital , Mumbai for the patients
referred from Medical Colleges and other hospitals in the state. In
fact, this should be announced in the budget session of the Punjab assembly.
This issue was identified by the SAD and has been promised in their
election manifesto also.
The time is running short and so are the hopes of sustainability of
Punjab. May some true son of Punjab having clout in government challenge
to do some thing?
(Author is Executive Director
of Kheti Virasat Mission. Jaitu, Faridkot district based environmental
and ecological agriculture NGO in Punjab . Phone: 9872682161, E-mail:
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