Forgotten Issue Of Environmental Crisis In Punjab Elections
By Umendra Dutt
12 February, 2007
is election time in Punjab. Parties are promising moon to the voters.
The politicians are even ready to bring down the heaven to Punjab. Every
body has started talking about development. The word Development has
become a major issue. Election manifestos are painting a rosy picture
of a Developed Punjab. But, none of them is kind enough to tell what
will be cost of this development? And who has to bear the cost? Who
will be sacrificed for this? More over how sustainable will be this
development? This so-called development has already taken a heavy toll.
Severe ecological and environmental health crises are quite visible
in Punjab now. This environmental crisis has eclipsed the very sustainability,
livelihood and the prosperity of the Punjab. But, unfortunately no political
party has taken serious note of this. None of the party manifesto has
touched the environmental crisis in its real sense. Rather they are
promising new gifts at the cost of ecological balance and long term
sustainability of environment, agriculture and economy.
Punjab agriculture is under
severe debt pressure. The debt burden on the farmers of Punjab is about
Rs 22,000 crores. According to a study the average farm debt per hectare
in Punjab is Rs 56442, where as this average in cotton belt of south-western
is as high as Rs 69518. NSSO survey done in 2003 reports per farmer
household debt of Rs 41576, were as a PAU study in same year reports
per farmer household debt of Rs 92394. This indicates that there is
some thing seriously wrong with agriculture model of Punjab. The capital
intensity of Punjab farms is increasing on very fast pace. In 1982-83
it is Rs 7572 per hectare, which goes as high as Rs 34089 per hectare
in 1994-95. This capital intensity is further gone up and according
to an estimate it is near Rs 45000 per hectare now. Farm economist also
estimates that farm machinery of worth Rs 10,000 crores was standing
in farms of Punjab at present. There is a strong view among the farm
economists that this investment is need of present capital intensive
model. But high capital intensity does not generate employment accordingly.
There has been amazing decline in number of marginal and small land
holdings in Punjab. According to a PAU study in 1991-92 there were 2.95
lakh marginal and 2.03 lakh small operational holdings, but in 2000-01
these land declined to 1.23 lakh marginal and 1.73 lakh small land holdings.
About 1.20 lakh farming families has moved out of agriculture between
year 1990 and 2000. Where these farmers have gone? What has happened
to them and their families? More over farmer's suicide is another indicator
of instability and unsustainability of agriculture in Punjab. According
to a participatory survey by BKU (Ekta- Ugrahan) more then 13,000 farmers
have committed suicide in Punjab. Government may differ from this figure,
but it is a harsh truth that farmer's suicides are a blot on so-called
agricultural prosperity of Punjab.
The five year electoral system
has made our politicians short sighted. They do not want to address
the problems beyond this. Sustainability is not an issue for them at
all. Making promises by ignoring ecological balance is a kind of bribe
to get votes. Politicians are mere pampering the voters of today at
the cost of lives of tomorrow. They may get power to govern, but Punjab
will lose its natural resources ultimately, if these promises fulfilled
unchecked. This trend needs to be questioned strongly.
It is the high time to take
up the issue of environmental health crisis, depleting water resources,
prevalence of high pesticide residues and subsequently the ecological
and agricultural sustainability of Punjab. Elections are providing an
opportunity for this. Those who want to save Punjab from an offing environmental
and agricultural chaos should ask political parties to spell out their
agenda for the same.
Punjab is fast exhausting
its ground water aquifers. But politicians are promising more tube wells
without owning any social and environmental responsibility. In 1970-71
there were only 1.92 lakh tube wells in Punjab, in 80-81 there were
6 lakh tube wells, and in 90-91 number went up to 8 lakh, 2000-01 again
number rises upto 10 lakh and now there are about 14 lakh tube wells.
In last four decades ground water exploitation has touched new heights
in Punjab as area under irrigation through tube wells has gone up to
as high as 78% and even more in 2000-01 from 37% in 1960-61. Cropping
intensity has also increased from 126% to 185 % during this period.
This means more and more dependency on ground water.
From last two decades water
security of Punjab is under severe threat. But none of government had
taken any concrete step to save Punjab from water disaster. There was
no holistic plan to tackle the emerging water crisis. Neither any government
has taken any initiative to evolve a perspective, vision and plan for
environmental and agriculture sustainability. Despite all odds area
under rice cultivation has increased from just 6% to 60% in last forty
years. This is not only unsustainable agricultural growth but it is
against the very fragile ecological balance also. Thus the results are
very disgusting. In 1984 there were 53 blocks declared as dark zones,
then in 1995 number of dark zones has increased upto 84 and in 2005
this figure further increased to 108 out of total 138 development blocks.
Ground water level falling much faster then assumed. In 1973 only 3%
area of Punjab has water table below 10 meters, it went up to 14.9%
in 1989, 20% in 1992, and 28% in 1997, 53% in 2000, 76% in 2002 and
in 2004 the situation goes beyond expectations when 90% area of Punjab
is drawing water from the depth of more then 10 meters. More over 30%
area of Punjab has depth of 20 meters or even more. This has also created
the acute problem of drinking water in villages. In 1980 there are 3712
villages identified as drinking water problem villages, this figure
went up to 6287 in 1990, and then in year 2000 the number goes as high
as 8518 and as of now 11849 villages or habitations out of total 12423
in Punjab are facing drinking water problems.
Now our worthy politicians
are luring farmers by promising more tube wells. With new euphoria for
constructing Malls, SEZs and mega construction projects, the ground
water will further exploited without any check. Any government can sanction
tube wells, it can provide free power for the same, or it can install
any machinery for water purification. But question is from where the
water will come? Any government can allow more and more exploration
of ground water, which means more and more fast depletion of aquifers.
But who will take responsibility to replenish and re-charge these aquifers?
How can we expect from any
government to act on water crisis if there is no water policy as such
and no action plan to mitigate water crisis. Punjab has no state water
policy as of now. In 2004 a draft water policy was circulated with in
governmental circles only and it is still not more than a draft. This
draft policy is mere spoiled carbon copy of National Water Policy -2002.
Interestingly, this water policy is already under fire for being instrument
to paving way for privatization and corporatization of water resources.
More over this policy is meant to serve corporate interests rather then
serving farmers and common people. Making water a sellable commodity
has to have very serious repercussions. Several civil society groups
are already demanding redrafting of National Water Policy 2002. Thus
a state water policy draft copied from NWP can not be serve purpose
Will the claimants of power
in Punjab have any vision and perspective plan? Neither there had been
a single minute of discussion in Punjab assembly on state water policy,
nor does any political leader has raised the issue in or out side the
house. It is important to know as to how many MLAs have got the copy
of this draft water policy. Even those who are claming to be savior
of Punjab water have not seen this document. This draft policy was all
most kept secret and there was no public dialogue in any form on this
has taken place.
The water resources are not
the property of our generation only. They belong to our future generations
too. The water security of Punjab's coming generations is already jeopardized.
Punjab needs sustainability of water resources. Does any political party
of Punjab dare to take up this issue?
Another environmental issue
need to be thoroughly discussed during and after elections, is the severe
health crisis caused by environmental degradation and toxicity. Horrible
environmental health crises have engulfed the vast area of the state,
particularly the Malwa region, as cancer, reproductive health problems,
early ageing and skeletal fluorosis has become very common. But most
infamous disease is Cancer, which has taken lives of thousands of people.
People had borrowed money for cancer treatment; they forced to sell
their land, ornaments and tractors to save lives of their family members.
But, the deadly cancer wins. Neither the lives were saved nor do they
remain able to repay debt. It is a grim sorrow saga of whole of the
Malwa and despite all tall claims and promises there is no respite for
cancer sufferers and their family members.
Now on the eve of elections
both Akali Dal (Badal) and Congress (I) promised to open cancer hospital
in Malwa region, but is it the real solution to the crisis? Cancer is
mere one symptom of environmental degradation and presence of toxic
substances in our environment and food chain. Opening up of a cancer
hospital will serve though important but very limited purpose. It will
treat the cancer patients, but certainly it will not undo the toxicity
present in our eco-system. More over it will not check the high prevalence
rate of cancer in all ages and sexes. We have to prevent cancer as prevention
is always better than cure. Therefore we have to make environment free
from toxicants, pesticides and other contaminators.
There are few more aspects
of environmental health crisis in Punjab. The reproductive health is
in very serious trouble. Punjab has one of the highest numbers of Neural
Tube Defect NTD babies, then growing infertility, deformities, congenital
abnormalities, high birth rate of brainless children (80% among this
are females), deteriorating semen quality, DNA and chromosomal damage,
weakening of bones and joints due to water with high TDS causing serious
spinal problems even in children and more worrisome is large scale female
Punjab has very high pesticide
spry density. It consumes near 18% pesticides of whole of India on just
2.5% agricultural area of country. The entire food chain of Punjab contains
residue of several pesticides. The data from All India Coordinated Research
Project on Pesticidal Residue clearly indicates presence of DDT, HCH
and BHC in cereals, milk, butter, fruits, vegetables and even infant
formula. The edibles have residues of other pesticides like Phosphamidon,
Quinalphos, Chlorpyriphos, Endosulfan, Malathion, Parathion, Monocrotophos
and lindane. The presence of pesticides in blood as detected by Centre
for Science and Environment also raises serious questions. CSE report
states the presence of cocktail of 6 to 13 pesticides in blood samples.
CSE also find organo-chlorine and residues of the newer and so-called
'non-persistent' pesticides – organophosphates in blood .This
is a serious threat to the health of people of Punjab. This finding
is disturbing because organophosphates are now getting added in body
to the earlier contamination of organochlorines. These organophosphates
have far higher toxicity than the older organochlorines.
But our politicians have
no time to discuss these issues. Even the two committees setup after
CSE report came out were miserably failed to do any thing. The so-called
high power committee headed by the Chief Minister did not held a single
meeting. But, the opposition does not make this an issue. Then comes
recommendations made by expert committee setup after PGIMER submitted
its report on high prevalence of cancer cases in Talwandi Sabo block.
These recommendations are not brought out in public. The apathy is not
limited upto here. Punjab Pollution Control Board which had spent approximately
Rs 15 lacs on this study has dumped the report. It is not published
properly, only photocopies were distributed in a limited circle. Even
the villagers of Talwandi Sabo block till date does not know what was
written in that report. Because it was not translated in Punjabi, thus
not circulated and neither its synopsis was distributed. But, again
the opposition parties were also failed to take up this issue. Akali
Dal - BJP or any other opposition party has not taken any clear stance
on the crisis and neither any of them has questioned the role of Punjab
government. No body knows how many politicians had gone through the
PGIMER- PPCB report. It is also worth mentioning that Mr Manpreet Badal
is committed to this issue in his personal capacity and he has also
hosted a People's dialogue on Environmental Health Crisis organised
by Environmental Health Action Group of Kheti Virasat Mission at Badal
village in August 2005. But as main opposition and a party Akali Dal
seems to be lesser concerned because it's other MLAs from Malwa region
does not shown any interest in the entire issue. Congress is seems to
be satisfied with governmental action only and as the party it remains
mum. Where as, BJP is no where in the scene at all.
The pathetic situation of water resources and environmental health concerns
ought to be raised in the elections. It is the issue of future generations
of Punjab. The performance of politicians and political parties in Punjab
should be evaluated on their concerns, commitment and actions for tackling
the ecological crisis. Parties must bring out with their action plan
to mitigate water and environmental health crisis. The voters should
ask for the same.
After all, would be rulers
should know the importance of understanding, vision and commitment for
the issues of livelihood and ecological sustainability, water security
and environmental health safety. Let us make the environment a voter's
Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission. Jaitu, Faridkot
district based environmental NGO in Punjab . Phone: 9872682161, E-mail:
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