Health Crisis In Punjab, Who Cares?
By Umendra Dutt
09 October, 2006
Dharampreet, he is only six years old, a student of second class in
village Wan of district Ferozepur. He is as innocent child like other
children of his age, but one thing is special he has – lot of
grey hairs. This is pre-mature aging in very childhood it self. But,
he is not alone in this agony; about dozen children of his age to twelve
are suffering from pre-mature aging problem.
Then have a look of village
Jhok Sarkari in Faridkot district. Here even children as young as of
ten years are suffering from joint pain, arthritis and graying of hairs.
It is the same story in number of other villages of Faridkot district,
whether it is Jhariwala, Koharwala, Puckka, Bhimawali and Khara or some
other, the situation is almost same. Every village has large number
of cancer deaths from some 10 to as high as 35 in last six to ten years.
Then premature aging even in childhood, joint pain, issue less couples
and several other reproductive health problems. It would be same story
in whole of Malwa region.
Earlier it was assumed that
cancer is spread in the villages of Bathinda district, with in two years
Muktsar district and particularly Giddarbaha area seems to be more prone
to Cancer then Faridkot and Mansa districts also figures in the cancer
list. Later on it is turn of Sangrur, Moga, Ferozepur and more lately
even Patiala and Amritsar districts were also included in this list
of sorrow. Moreover, the childhood of Punjab is much threatened by deadly
cancer. In Khara village a 12 year old boy dies of cancer. An unmarried
girl as young as of 25 years detected breast cancer in Adesh Cancer
Hospital, Muktsar. Unfortunately, the Childhood cancer shows rising
trends in Punjab. These incidents are indicators that people of Punjab
are going to suffer lot more in future.
If we have a look on environmental
health scenario after cancer now the arthritis and skeletal fluorosis
are fast becoming major health problems of the Malwa region. Just go
to any village you will find peoples infested by several diseases related
with environmental degradation.
It is a very clear writing
on the wall that, the Punjab is in the middle of a multidimensional
ecological-disaster, which is further pushing the people of Punjab in
an unprecedented and far unimaginable environmental health crisis. This
scenario needs urgent attention. But who cares for it?
The very committee formed
to make an action plan for cancer mitigation has yet to meet even after
16 months of its formation. If people who are at helm of affairs could
not find time to have a meeting in 16 month time then they have no right
to be there. It is irony that no politician has remembers this committee.
If state like Punjab could not evolve a strategy an action plan for
environmental health crisis mitigation, and then who should be made
responsible for this?
Not only the ruling party
forgotten the crisis but the opposition is also busy with other issues.
It seems no political party wants to talk about environmental health
and ecological crisis. The aimless debate on rackets, corruption and
other politically surcharged issues has taken its toll, the ecology,
environmental health and issues of sustainability were pushed out of
entire political spectrum of the state. Because politicians feel that
the environment does not have capacity to influence the electoral, nor
does it has created any strong civil society movement. That is why the
poor environment does not figure in agenda of any political party. There
is total political apathy for the environment.
Another example of this political
and governmental apathy is more worrisome. Now every body knows that
cancer has already become bane for Punjab. But, the situation has its
worst aspect in non availability of adequate cancer treatment facilities
in Malwa region. The state number One has not even able to provide its
people a proper cancer treatment facility by constructing a cancer hospital
in Bathinda area. Alas, Punjab government is much busy in clearing Special
Economic Zones, The Mega Malls and all other things which have a commercial
market by forgetting its people who suffer from cancer. These poor cancer
patients are forced to go to Bikanar in Rajasthan for their treatment.
According to ICMR's national cancer registry programme out of total
424 cancer patients from Bathinda district 328 were treated at Acharya
Tulsi Regional Cancer Centre, Bikaner. Why a state like Punjab, much
known for its prosperity not able to build a cancer hospital in Bathinda.
These are figures from one district of Malwa, has gone through figures
from other district too; the situation would be much more pathetic.
says that pesticides are folic acid antagonist resulting birth of brainless
children, but it seems pesticides also made some elderly people brainless
or at least made them unable to think over the crisis generated by the
pesticides. This is the power of pesticideswalas and their resources.
Moreover any process to take
up environmental health crisis has to start from debate on pesticides
and other agro-chemicals and their adverse health impacts. Interestingly,
the debate on pesticides and their contribution in bring environmental
health crisis is already underplayed by not only pesticide companies
and agriculture establishment but also by health department. They had
already dubbed the PPCB -PGIMER report on high cancer incidence in Talwandi
Sabo area. More over even after the near two years of publication report,
no action has been taken on recommendations made in the report. This
shows that there is someone who is afraid of any action taken in this
regard. But people must know who is he? And by whom he is supported?
How he is so powerful that one can scuttle the so called high powered
But in spite of the well
known fact that pesticides had already pushed and constantly pushing
the Punjab into environmental health devastation, any attempt to buildup
debate on the pesticides is fiercely opposed and subdued by the protagonists
of pesticides and its economy. There are certain quarters which always
say that Punjab can not do without pesticides. Unfortunately, the government
and policy makers always listen to these elements only. When ever there
is a voice to phase out pesticides and agro-chemicals from Punjab ,
it was always opposed by a strong lobby of pesticide manufacturers along
with their brothers in arms from agriculture establishments.
There are more than enough
academic studies that show that for agricultural productivity and food
security, pesticides are not indispensable and what's more, these studies
that have shown that the alternative methods of pest control give great
benefits to farmers. Please remember, it is the farmers who will provide
that food security to the country, not the agro-chemical industry. If
they are happy and interested in their agriculture and if they do not
despair after falling into the trap of the input industry including
the agro-chemicals industry in ever-spiralling-upwards cost of cultivation,
their productivity is likely to be highest. Furthermore, such productivity
is ensured only if farmers and agricultural workers are healthy and
not when they are dying of pesticides-related impacts, including many
acute poisoning deaths that happen to this day.
Punjab is in the grip of
a terrible environmental crisis emanating from the intensive farming
practices in vogue for the past four decades. Studies by the Consultative
Group on International Agricultural research (CGIAR) have established
that Punjab is faced with second generation environmental crisis. The
cultivable land is sick, the environment has been heavily contaminated
by the use and abuse of chemical pesticides and the underground water
table is plummeting at a disastrous pace.
Excessive use of chemical
fertilisers has rendered the soils infertile. Organic matter in Punjab'
soil is almost close to zero percent. Much of the fertiliser leaches
into the groundwater making it not only unfit for drinking but also
for irrigation. Excessive withdrawal of nutrients from the soil has
also brought in deficiencies of micro-nutrients over the past few decades.
And yet, despite the severe environmental impact from the green revolution
practices, agricultural scientists did not advocate a mid-term correction
by bringing in sustainable farming practices.
Chemical pesticides were
pushed in indiscriminately. Forty years after the advent of green revolution,
the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Manila, Philippines
now clearly accepts its mistakes in promoting pesticides and has gone
on record saying that 'pesticides were a waste of time and effort' in
Asia for rice. Punjab Agricultural University however continues to push
in pesticides knowing well that these were not required in the first
place. In case of cotton, agricultural scientists have compounded the
problem by turning the insect profile hostile. There were only six or
seven pests that worried the cotton farmers in the 1960s. Today the
number of cotton pests has multiplied to over 60.
Studies done by ICRISAT and
IRRI clearly demonstrate the sustainability, viability and successful
economics of Non-Pesticide Management practices. Farmers in Bangladesh,
Philippines and Vietnam have successfully opted for pesticide free rice
cultivation. The Cuba has also shown the way. Former Director General
of IRRI, Dr. Robert Cantrell had this to say: "It shows that the
mistakes of Green Revolution where too much emphasis was sometimes put
on the use of chemicals for pest control have clearly been recognized
But irony of Punjab is that
the agriculture establishments are not open to this truth of pesticides
and even they are not tolerant to any question and debate related to
pesticides and environmental health crisis. They are still in green-revolution
mindset and insulated from alternative paradigm for sustainable agriculture,
environment and development. The agriculture establishments feel honour
of their role played in green revolution, it could be their proud. They
already got pat for that, they earned whole lot of admiration for the
work they had done, but now it is time to have an honest introspection
and constructive criticism should be encouraged.
This entire situation poses
a very serious question that if government fails to take-up her duty,
if health department does not bring any environmental health action
plan and yet the environmental health crisis is fast deepening further,
then how civil society should respond to this laxity constantly shown
by the government and health department.
Secondly, if political parties
are not responding to the environmental health crisis then how can we
expect that they will do some thing on this issue? How a civilized and
enlightened society in a democratic set-up should react to this situation?
What should be the role of civil society in these circumstances? We
have to find answers to these questions.
Here lays the basic issue
of developmental paradigm the Punjab is following from last four decades.
It is right time to initiate a public debate on entire developmental
strategies, systems and the road-map adopted in Punjab. Which ultimately
bring more of destruction, deaths, suicides, debts and a sort of socio-economic
and cultural anarchy in Punjab? But who has the time for these issues
and whose priority is this? We talk about various crises in Punjab,
whether it is related to health, water, farmers' suicides, rural indebtedness,
ecological destruction, natural resources and contamination and pollution
the genesis of these lays in the developmental model enforced upon Punjab.
In democracy people get the
government-good, bad or worst what so ever it is, is the government
they deserves. So if government does not take care of environmental
health crisis or any political party does not voices the apathy of this
crisis the society should introspect that who is responsible for this
situation. Any regime may go or come the situation will remain same
unless the environmental health builds as an issue which could mobilize
the votes. The civil society has to have its environmental charter so
that political parties should respond to that. The civil society has
to buildup the pressure so that environment should figure in agenda
of political parties' first, then consistent follow-up, social vigil
and time to time evaluation of performance must keep alive the issue.
The civil society has to
play much larger role in this context. So those who want to bring Punjab
out this devastating situation must accept their duties first.
Every individual or group
who feel concerned about the situation should evolve her/his or a collective
action plan. The awakened and creative section of society has to buildup
a participatory cross section debate in Punjab over the entire ecological
crisis and environmental health crisis in particular. It is high time
to re-emphasis the demand of "ECOLOGICAL and HEALTH EMERGENCY"
be declared immediately for the entire cotton belt in the state. The
plans and funds allocated for the region should be diverted for remediation,
rehabilitation and relief work of the affected on an urgent basis. The
state government should re-priorities, re-structure and re-categorize
its plans and projects with emphasis on crisis management.
In democracy we have duties
and rights. Let us talk about our environmental duties now. We are mere
trustees of the natural resources we got from our forefathers bestowed
by Mother Nature. We have to pass on these resources to our future generations
in healthy state. The real welfare of Punjab only lays in sustainable
prosperity not just the bubble of happiness. So it is high time to respond
the crisis and draw a civil society charter of environmental duties
and rights. Civil society has to nail government so that the episode
of non-meeting of high powered committee on environmental health crisis
should not repeat at all. There should be no Dharampreets any more –
the childhood cursed by his own forefathers.
Any action to save Punjab
from ecological catastrophe and environmental health crisis is a great
service to fellow countrymen. It would be a service to our Motherland,
Humanity and God and more over it is as sacred as any worship. We all
pray for the wellbeing of all, but have to live the very life which
(Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission. Jaitu, Faridkot
district based environmental NGO in Punjab. Phone: 9872682161, E-mail:
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