By Radhika Naithani:
Even though Punjab is not my native city, my bond with it goes back to the time when I was 12 years of age. My earliest memories of Punjab comprise of gorging hungrily on my favorite makki di roti and sarson da saag and the friendly & hospitable Punjabi households. Because of this intimacy with Punjab, my heart cried when I read an article on the environmental degradation, taking place in Punjab and I decided to write this article to voice out my anguish.
Year 1966 — 1967 were the years of the “Green revolution” in India, which transformed India from “Begging bowl” to “Breadbasket”. According to Gurudev Singh Kush, one of the pioneers of the Green revolution, “Fortunately, large scale famines and social & economic upheavals were averted, thanks to the marked increase in cereal grain yields in many developing countries that began in the late 1960s”. Punjab is, without doubt, an example of the living success story of the Green revolution. So much so, that it also earned the sobriquets like the “Bread basket of India” and “India’s granary”.
However, the picture is no longer rosy, with the consequences of the Green revolution coming under constant global scrutiny. While Green revolution provided a few solutions to the problem of food security, Punjab started facing a completely new range of problems like decaying soil, pest infested crops, indebted and discontent farmers. Punjab, known as the torchbearer of the Green revolution, also happens to be the first state, which is suffering from its adverse consequences.
The Green revolution project included massive use of pesticides, improved irrigation projects, use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and improved crop varieties. The main objective was to gain food security through scientific methods. However, there were little or no efforts to educate the farmers about the high risk associated with the intensive use of pesticides. A comprehensive study conducted by the Post Graduate Institution of Medical Education & Research (PGIMER) has shown a direct connection between the use of pesticides and growing incidents of cancer in the region. The price Punjab had to pay for food security comprises ailments like cancer, renal failure, stillborn babies and birth defects.
Punjab alone accounts for 20% of India’s pesticide consumption. According to a study conducted on the blood samples of the villagers by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), six to thirteen different varieties of pesticides is virtually present in all the blood samples. These killer pesticides are HCH, aldrin, DDT, endosulfan, chloropyrifos and malathian. Take any sample from any randomly selected well and there is a good chance that it shall be rich in pesticides. Breast milk and cow’s milk also contain traces of these killer pesticides.
In 1970s, a huge dosage of pesticides revolutionized the farming ways in India, and the results were good. However, in due course, the pests grew immune to the pesticides & the farmers in desperation started pumping out even higher quantity of these. This excessive use of chemicals not only contaminated the air, soil and the water table, but adulterated pesticides also became a threat to all the plants and humans who are exposed to these.
Take a trip through Punjab and you will find an unauthorized dealer of pesticides in almost every nook and corner. These dealers themselves are unaware of the hazardous nature of these pesticides. The authorized dealers are no better. With no counseling provided to them by the government, they also remain ignorant. There are instructions on the container of pesticides clearly mentioning how much pesticide should be used, and the need to wear protective gears while dealing with pesticides. However, farmers and dealers ignore these safety instructions. Organic farming is one of the solutions, but the government agencies are not doing much to assist the farmers in this area, or to provide awareness, and most of the farmers are themselves reluctant to go back to the old ways as it gives them a lower yield in the beginning.
Kartar Kaur’s three sons died of cancer in the village of Jaijjal, Punjab. What is the government doing about this? You may wonder. Well it is forming “COMMITTEES”, which conducts meetings rarely even while the villagers are dying a slow death. However, these committees have failed to come up with a solution to the problem. The only thing they have achieved to do so far is conducting ‘studies’ and ‘surveys’. The Punjab government has acknowledged the gravity of the situation but mere acknowledgement is not a solution. It is imperative to frame a comprehensive strategy to tackle this menace.
The government agencies should get to work and send health inspectors to these villages to counsel and train the farmers on the use of pesticides. Protective gears should be distributed free of cost. If we are contemplating organic farming as an option, farmers should get proper assistance. In addition, the government should conduct raids and keep a check on the growth of unauthorized dealers selling adulterated pesticides, which prove to be more lethal than unadulterated pesticides.
However, the government alone is not to bear the sole responsibility. I believe the pesticides companies also have a corporate and a moral responsibility to spread awareness and to educate the farmers on the safe use of pesticides. It should be a joint effort of the government and the private companies, only than can we hope to achieve some progress. It is very important to wear protective clothes while spraying insecticides, pesticides and herbicides.
The Bhopal gas tragedy is an example of the extent of irreversible damage caused by hazardous chemicals; however we still have not learnt our lesson and the government continues to stay blind to the situation in Punjab. The state puts the blame on the centre and the centre retaliates by saying that health is a state list subject. However, Punjab is not an isolated case. It is Punjab today but it can be some other state tomorrow. Its time the state and centre wake up to the seriousness of the situation, and take adequate steps to combat the many ills of the green revolution.