pesticides and cancerThe green revolution has been lauded for what it did for our country. We went from a country begging for food to being an exporter. However, along with it came several drawbacks too, the foremost being the increased cancer prevalence in states like Punjab which contributed majorly to the revolution. Natural pesticides and fertilizers used earlier gave way to the more ‘effective’ but deadly artificial ones. Little did anyone know the perils it would expose them and the generations to come.

According to the latest statistics released by the Punjab Government, Punjab has over 90 cancer patients per one lakh population. This is much higher than the national average of 80 per lakh. The Malwa region, also known as the ‘cancer belt’, has the highest average of 136 cancer patients per one lakh of population. Data over the last five years has shown that 18 people die of cancer every day, on an average.

The connection is hard to ignore – Punjab with just 2.5 per cent of the agriculture land of the country consumes around 18 per cent of pesticides used in India, a very high number by any standard. There are high subsidies provided by the Government on pesticides in the state and this has led to their indiscriminate use.

Aamir Khan’s show Satyamev Jayate  took up the subject for discussion when Kavitha Kurugganti of the Alliance for Sustainable Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) said that the blame didn’t lie with farmers alone but the policy-makers. She said that 67 pesticides that were banned in other countries  were still being used in India.  Only 1 per cent of the pesticides sprayed reaches its intended target and the rest 99 per cent remains in the environment.

Though the use of pesticides for fruits and vegetables seem to have decreased due to awareness, it continues to be used on other crops especially cotton, which is a cash-crop contributing to the economy of the state and is highly susceptible to pests. Of the top 15 pesticides used on the crop, the US’s Environmental Protection Agency considers seven as ‘possible’, ‘likely’, ‘probable,’ or ‘known’ human carcinogens (acephate, dichloropropene, diuron, fluometuron, pendimethalin, tribufos, and trifluralin). Add to that the contaminated water with high heavy-metal toxicity and you have a lethal cocktail.

Women in the state are affected by uterine and breast cancer, while cancer of the oesophagus, lymphoma and leukemia are the other types prevalent amongst men. Pesticides also cause the destruction of folic acid especially during pregnancy leading to neural tube defects, stunted growth and mental disorders in infants. Reduced sperm counts, spontaneous abortions, premature deliveries are heralding a ‘reproductive-crisis’ in some belts in the state.

What’s adding to the tragedy is the fact there are only two state-run hospitals in Chandigarh (PGI) and Faridkot. And the treatments provided here too are not affordable by some of the poor farmers. So, it isn’t surprising to see cancer patients catching the ‘cancer train’ from Bathinda to get treatment at the hospital in Bikaner, Rajasthan.  

The state seems to be taking some steps to improve the situation. It has now made cancer a notifiable disease, holds several awareness camps and has provided free travel on trains for cancer patients.  Just last week, the centre has given approval for setting up a 300-bed cancer hospital in Sangrur, in collaboration with Tata Memorial Centre. 

So, what are the alternatives to the deadly pesticides and fertilizers? Apart from using animal and green manure, preventive techniques like crop rotation, using pest-resistant varieties and planting pest-free rootstock can be used. If the constant monitoring of the crop indicates that pest control is necessary, then less risky pest control measures can be applied. 

Also read: War on Cancer

  • 18 april 2013

    So far punjab is providing food grain all over the country and still there are so many people who ever use to belame punjabis for diffrent sot of things. .while praising them they declare the punjab one of the state who is responsible for different type of diseases like cancer. . through but? (grains) no its wrong. .I think they forget about tobbaco farming in various states. .Pesticides is only used for care of grains and who suggest for this our own scientists. so no need to belame punjabi farmers and dn’t forget we all are indians. . So be united rather then to belame them.

  • Some truth please

    Pasumpon

    I know you mean well but the truth goes thus!

    Scientists who knew the situation well say:

    Monkombu Sambasivan Swaminathan has been both the cause and target of scientific controversy, in India and the world.
    The ‘murder’ story is about a Kerala scientist (probably called Joseph) who committed suicide in IARI, Delhi in the early sixties. Charge was that MSS drove him to it (never proved, never disproved).

    To his credit, MSS pointed out a long time ago that the Green Revolution was an interim measure to increase food production, but that – in the long term, which has now arrived – it could not be sustained.

  • varghese

    Punjabis are one of the most richest people in India..the simple reason is the Green Revolution spin offs…The Govt of India pumped billions to get the state into this state..at the same time other states were starved…had there been equatable distribution not concentration of scarce resources incidents of cancer would have been lesser concentrated.

    India can get back to the ancient way of organic farming and recharge their areas and environment for a better brighter future.
    Cancer is not the end…new research should be done..If i am not mistaken after Madam Curie work till date no serious work has ever been done to eradicate cancer…I am sure there is a deadly nexus between the State and the Drug Industry…

  • Pasumpon

    M.S.Swaminathan, the father of Green Revolution is a fake scientist who stole the ancient varieties from Thamizh Nadu and declared them as his development when he was IRRI head. So there too people can see a robber and he went on to murder his assistant who was honest using the official murderers.

    That is the summary of his green revolution.

  • DSB

    First punjabis died for the freedom of India, now they are dying feeding India. What an irony.

    • bharati

      DSB

      All India, including every community, worked and died for India’s freedom. No one blames Punjabis for receiving canals from the British in return for supporting the colonizers against the freedom fighters. Independent India used enormous amounts of money and the best scientific knowledge available anywhere to help Punjabi farmers while others had nothing. This worked for decades and now since we know better, we will return to other better, traditional methods of farming.

      I hear nonsense like how Punjab supports all of India. Actually, the highest amount of taxes come from Maharashtra and Gujarat who receive the least back from the centre. Immediately after partition, enormous funds were diverted to help Punjab’s refugees and rightly so. Why not acknowledge this?

      I admire Punjabis but really they too should acknowledge all that was done for them. Willingly by the rest!

  • bharati_shahida

    Request all to read or at least google Churchill’s Secret War. It describes how Churchill stole India’s grain at gun point from Indian farmers for Britain’s many war fronts and and kept huge quantities for personal profiteering. He knew Europe’s fields were devastated and huge profits would come from hoarding and selling this stolen grain when post war grain prices rose. The Bengal famine is mostly due to this. Check images of the Bengal famine. Also do read Late Victorian Holocausts. UK’s Durbar in Delhi was the largest feast while peasants starved and had to prevented at gun point from coming to cities for food.
    Also UK insisted on farmers growing cash crops and opium to poison China. Soon after ’47, India grew sufficient food. Now it is up to us to ensure this becomes an ecologically farmed country.

    The Punjabi farmer is smart. If taught by NGOs not to use these pesticides and fertilizers and why, many would comply and bankrupt these deadly businesses.