Health Crisis In Punjab
By Umendra Dutt
31 August, 2005
the severity of cancer prevalence in various parts of Punjab, the state
health department is conveniently hiding behind its own inadequacies.
The official misinformation
regarding severity of cancer and traces of pesticides found in blood
samples of people is an act of offence as it undermines the issue of
state? environmental health. It is indeed a deliberate attempt to downplay
a serious situation which potentially threatens all future generations.
of data which establishes that the state and its people are in the face
of a grave ecological disaster show that Punjab Government is more interested
in protecting the pesticide lobby than getting its act together in the
face of astounding discoveries regarding cause of cancers in the region.
But for some strange
reason, the government is deliberately opposing findings of the scientifically
designed Punjab Pollution Control Board- PGIEMR study as also the findings
When Health department
and some of agriculture experts are negating the PGIMER-PPCB study the
environmental health experts are praising the study .Country's foremost
environmental Health expert Dr.S.G.Kabra, Faculty, IIHMR, Jaipur and
Advisor, SDM Hospital, Jaipur says " The well planned and executed
PGI Chandigarh study brings out unequivocal evidence that the use of
indiscriminate, indiscreet, excessive and unsafe use of pesticides in
the study area is resulting into significantly higher number of pesticide
related cancers and cancer deaths. Cancer figures from Rajasthan lend
support to the carcinogenic and teratogenic effect of pesticides used
in the state." blood testing report which found at least 6 to 13
pesticides in blood samples of people here.
of the past surveys by Health Department shows any trace of the cancer
problem in Punjab. As per their study, no pesticide has been found in
235 blood samples that had been taken from 12 districts and got tested
in State Forensic Laboratory, Patiala. These findings stand in stark
contrast with those of the PPCB-PGIMER study and the CSE initiative.
It is another matter
that the Patiala laboratory has little expertise except Industrial Toxicology
Research Centre, ITRC, Lucknow. Also hardly any blood samples were tested.
It was also not explained as to wherefrom the samples were taken, if
any were taken at all. In this regard the most vulnerable groups are
farmers, their families and farm workers and also those with long term
occupational exposure and that too from cotton belt.
It is topical to
expose the state of affairs at the Patiala laboratory which has old
outdated instruments and technologies. They have no gas chromatograph
(GC) with electron capture detector which can detect pesticide residues
in blood samples. Nor do they have nitrogen phosphorous detector for
organ phosphorous. The lesser is said about their standards the better.
In fact the lab is not accredited to conduct pesticide residual analysis.
All the technology
which chemical examiners of Patiala lab are working with is an old and
far less sensitive technique of Thin Layer Chromatography. To detect
pesticides in blood a scientific residual analysis is required and for
that we have to detect pesticides to the extent of PPM or PPB. In the
given situation it is doubtful if the lab is capable of undertaking
The next big question
pertains to the time the lab took to test 235 blood samples ? a meager
40 - 45 days. Also the method of selection of samples is doubtful.
The actual scenario
in Punjab would never had been known had it not been for CSE Director
Sunita Narayan releasing her report to the media on June 7 this year.
It was only after she declared that there were 6 to 13 pesticides in
the human blood and food people eat in this state that the Punjab Government
got into action and ordered an enquiry after constituting a high power
committee to review the issue.
the health department held a meeting on July 25 only to declare that
it has tested samples and that the situation was not alarming.
It is anybody? guess
as to how the department got tested 235 blood samples for at least four
groups of pesticides in just 45 days!
Even if they carried
out minimum four tests on every sample, it would take total number of
tests to 940 and each test takes two-hour minimum time, taking the total
testing time to 1880 working hours!
Also it is interesting
to see how the state machinery back lashed following the release of
CSE study. Within five days of CSE salvo, the officials of Patiala laboratory
had gone to the press claiming no pesticides had been found in human
blood, urine and vegetables.
The CSE study was
released on June 7 and on June 12 the chief Chemical examiner had made
a claim based on his findings in 2500 cases of viscera examination.
Media stated that a clinical study had been conducted at State Chemical
Laboratory Patiala on the possibility of insecticides used over crops
and no poison had been detected in the substance of any eatable or vegetable
They added that
samples of blood and urine of human beings obtained from different sources
such as blood banks, clinical laboratories and volunteers had also been
tested for traces of insecticides and pesticides. None of these samples,
they claimed, tested positive for any poison.
The activation of
chemical examiner following CSE report is only understandable. Interestingly,
the state health department did not even circulate the study methodology
and results in the expert group meeting held at PGI Chandigarh on July
given by Director Family Welfare (DFW) are similar to the arguments
given by Chairman of Agro-Chemical Promotion Group. Both say pesticide
residue in blood samples is not an issue Punjab should talk about.
DFW had gone to
the extent of claming that state average of cancer incidences of Punjab
is very lower than the National average.
They said that prevalence
of cancer is 120/100000 population which they claim is comparable to
As the issue of
high cancer prevalence in Punjab is related to rural areas of Bathinda
and Giddarbaha, we actually have to compare it with rural areas mentioned
in National Cancer Registry Programme of ICMR. That document states
the incidence rate for male and female 46/100000 and 57/100000 respectively
in rural areas.
If health department
compiled its information from the paramedical staff in the four Punjab
districts which fell in the study group, the staff should have visited
at least one lakh households in each of the four districts. If door
to door survey was conducted then health staff should had been visited
nearly three lakh house holds, but the fact that they could manage all
this in three days is commendable.
And they should
have filled up the same number of survey forms during the exercise.
But little does Punjab know that every epidemiological study has a requisite
protocol to be followed and a scientific methodology to be taken care
The following factors
have to be spelt -- systems followed in the study; study design, implementation
mechanism, time frame, Principal Investigator.
and Family Welfare however does not have any answer to any of these
questions because the department didn't conduct a proper survey.
The Health and Family
Welfare Department may swear by the authenticity of the survey and data
produced but the circumstantial evidence indicates scientific fraud
has been committed.
mentioned health workers had gone to villages and made announcements
from loudspeaker in village gurudwaras, calling for a cancer patients
registered at health centers in the villages, ground survey shows no
such announcement was made.
The situation was
better fudged in urban areas where a large number of cancer patient
in towns still have no knowledge about any survey. In Faridkot, medical
officers were told on July 5 evening to submit the report of cancer
patients in their respective areas by 12 noon on July 6.
No scientific sampling
can be done in such haste and if this is true, the health department
is liable for scientific frauds. Incidentally this is the same department
that set aside the cancer prevalence three years back.
The same rotten
system was adopted earlier too, and nothing alarming was found despite
reports of high cancer cases in villages Jajjhal and Gyiana.
Health department, experts from PAU, some high officials and Agro-Chemical
promotion group are toeing the same line that there is no scientific
evidence that pesticides can cause cancer. They are exactly in the same
line as was for long time used by tobaccoindustry to controvert association
between tobacco exposure and cancer.
They used to submit
extensively the so called 'scientifically valid' research studies to
show that there was no correlation between tobacco exposure and cancer.
It was debated in America's highest court. However, ultimately it was
accepted world over that studies correlating tobacco with cancer were
more reliable. The American tobacco companies were made to pay billions
of dollars as compensation of cancer patients. It is now that world
over tobacco related cancers is accepted to be an entity - including
cancers is a new emerging entity based on scientificstudies. There are
several experimental, epidemiological and clinicalstudies published
recently showing relationship between certain types of cancers and certain
pesticides. It has no bearing or parallel to the present pesticide use
in the India. In any case pesticides as a risk factor in specific types
of cancers are cited in number of recent reports from USA and other
parts of world
The Pesticides are
playing havoc with Ecology and Public health in Punjab. Which is traumatized
with the distressing fact that Cotton belt in Malwa region of Punjab
is facing unprecedented crisis of environmental health from last few
The abnormally high
cases related to cancer, reproductive health, mental retardation , infertility
and several other pesticide caused or related diseases were reported
in surveys and general observations done in last three years.
Study after study
is pointing to words an devastating situation in making which ultimately
leads to destruction, displacement, distress, debt and death.
Though banned about
two decades back or even more the POPs are also found in blood samples
too. According to PGIMER- PPCB study blood contains the residues of
POPs like Heptachlor, DDT, Aldrin , Chlorpyriphos, Ethion and Endosulfan.
Recently the study
done by Centre for Science & Environment (CSE) also founds six to
thirteen pesticides in virtually all blood samples. Some of are POPs
as: HCH, Aldrin , DDT, Monocrotophos, Endosulfan, Phosphamidon, Chlorpyrifos
, and Malathion
After high cancer
incidents in villages of Bathinda now a new area Muktsar Giddarbaha
is emerging as another toxic hotspot from where several cancer deaths
have been reported in the recent times.
Apart from this
due to one or more reasons skeletal fluorosis is emerging in most of
the villages depicting a sad and stark future picture of the Malwa.
The Punjab has only
1.5 % landmass of the country but it consumes about 18% of pesticides
used in India and moreover the south-western districts of Malwa region
are consuming near 75% of pesticides used in Punjab.
In these circumstances
only a participatory community action dedicated to environmental health
crisis management and sustainable agriculture can save Punjab. Government
and civil society must act together for this.
Author is Executive Director of NGO - Kheti Virasat Mission. He can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org ;Phone: 098726 82161
KHETI VIRASAT MISSION
Street-5, Hardayal Nagar,
Phones:01635-230415 ; 530415