Green Agenda for Sustainable Punjab
An open letter to the Chief Minister of Punjab S. Parkash Singh Badal
S. Parkash Singh Badal,
Hon’ble Chief Minister of Punjab,
Subject: Appeal to adopt Green Agenda to ensure sustainability of Punjab
On the onset let us congratulate you on being once again elected the Chief Minister of the State of Punjab.
As concerned citizens of this state, proud of its heritage as a land of “Jawans and Kissans”, we wish to bring to your attention a matter of utmost seriousness, that needs to be taken up as the first and foremost priority.
The land of Punjab and its life support systems - its soil, water, air, environment and consequently the health of its people is going through an unprecedented crisis. This is affecting its agriculture, ecology and economic development. The SAD-BJP Government has taken the reins of governance, at a very crucial juncture, when the ecological crisis, that is cancerously destroying the strength and social fabric of the state, is at its peak.
We appeal, with a lot of hope and expectations, that this government will take the great responsibility or rather play a historic role in evolving a “Green Agenda for a Sustainable Punjab”.
Many of us have been giving a lot of thought on this matter and together we have now put this note – Agenda for a Sustainable Green Punjab. We are proposing this agenda with the strong appeal that there is no other way Punjab can be revived, except through reviving its most fundamental strength – its ecology. All other development sectors and the overall growth of the state depend on this life support system.
We hope that your government will take this note as a guiding document and shoulder the responsibility of carrying Punjab on a path of sustainable development, environmental security and imperishable prosperity, a land free from debts, farmers’ suicides, an environmental health crisis, and the destruction of nature and ecosystems.
Please see enclosed the proposed “Green Agenda for Sustainable Punjab.”
Thanking you in anticipation.
Umendra Dutt Prof Gurdayal Singh
Executive Director Punjabi Novelist
Kheti Virasat Mission Recipient of the PadamShri and GyanPeeth Award
This letter is also signed by:
Dr Surjeet Patar Sant Balbir Singh Seenchewal
President Savior of KaliBein
Punjabi Sahitya Academy Nirmal Kutiya, Sultanpur Lodhi
Prof Atamjeet Gurdas Maan
Punjabi Playwright Punjabi Singer
Dr. Bibi Inderjit Kaur Dr. Satish Jain
Pingalwara Charitable Society M.D. Oswal Cancer Hospital
Dr G P I Singh Dr. Prem Khosla
Environmental Health Action Group Social Sciences & Health Forum
Professor of Community Medicine Professor of Pharmacology
Dayanand Medical College & Hospital Gyan Sagar Medical College
Ludhiana Banur, Patiala
Gobind Thukral Shameel
Senior Journalist Editor, Daily Desh Sewak
Satnaam Singh Manak Pankaj Jain, Advocate
Journalist Convener, Punjab Environmental Justice Alliance
Green Agenda for Sustainable Punjab
The survival of the human being as a species is totally dependent on our surroundings, which is actually a complex set of processes in dynamic equilibrium. Any activity that human beings do for development – from simple hand tilling to complex industrial activity – must be anchored on environmental and ecological guidelines, and not just on economic output or increasing production. But if our actions are destructive, pollutive and exploitative, they will eventually destabilize the dynamic equilibrium of our surroundings and we will face a crisis, which will severely impact not just the environment, but overall progress. Punjab is facing such a situation, where many of our present ways of development are becoming more and more environmentally destabilizing. The worst of this crisis is now felt in the farming sector, where farmers, with huge economic debts are suffering from diseases – physical, mental and social – on an epidemic scale. Such a situation leads to mental fatigue and eventually taking the unfathomable and drastic decisions like committing suicide or other forms of violence within and outside the family. At the same time, we are also irreparably destroying our ecological foundations that have been sustaining our food, water and healthy environment, not only for all human beings but for all living beings. Ultimately, we are taking our land, its environment and its people to an imminent ecological and economic disaster.
The environment of Punjab is no longer safe for human survival. We must analyze where we have erred. The success of a development agenda that the government and its people want for the state will depend on whether we correct our past mistakes or not. The development agenda will now have to include intelligently planned, conscious activities for the revival and restoration of our ecological foundation. The primary task of the new government would hence have to start with an assessment of the ecological disaster. We then have to rediscover the natural environmental design of the state and agree upon its potentials and limitations. We have to take stock of approaches and plans which have gone wrong and reach a common consensus on the corrective priority actions. Then, we have to take steps on a war-footing, for ecological restorative activities, that would include social and environmental remedies to restore human health. We should establish guidelines and policies, followed by necessary Acts and institutions regarding the future management of these life support systems, so that we do not repeat the mistakes which jeopardize our survival. This would mean policies that take a broad look at our development paradigm (model) vis-à-vis environmental security and address the sectors of agriculture, health, education, social welfare, food, water and industrial development.
It is in this context that we wish to draw the attention of the government to the following:
Ecologically Sustainable Punjab
The first thing we must acknowledge is that only an ecologically sustainable Punjab can be economically sustainable. A good economy comes out of good ecology. The approach that has been followed, especially in the last three decades, is to bring in economic development at any cost. An analysis will reveal that it is this approach that has actually led to the present crisis.
Vision document for Sustainable Green Punjab: The very first step that the new government needs to initiate is to prepare a vision document for a sustainable green Punjab. In Punjab the success of the agriculture sector is directly linked to the ecological security. Hence, this document should specifically look at the issue of ecological and agricultural sustainability. Such an attempt will need a paradigm shift in approach and thinking. The following chapters will help guide this vision document.
To assess and remediate the environment in the state and to secure a good foundation for the beneficial and sustainable progress, the following is suggested:
Ecological Audit: As Punjab has suffered the most severe ecological crisis, a paradigm shift to save from ecological suicide is obligatory. The government must initiate the first-ever ecological audit of the state’s resources and life support systems. This will give us a status picture of the ecological condition of Punjab. We must know the quality of land, water and air being consumed by each Punjabi. A high-power working group with independent experts and headed by an eminent environmentalist should be constituted for this audit. The audit study should also recommend strategies for ecological revival and environmental sustainability of Punjab.
Punjab State Environment Commission: The SAD-BJP Government should constitute a ‘Punjab State Environment Commission’ as a statutory body. The proposed Environment Commission would be the first of its kind in India. The Environment Commission shall work as the highest agency for all issues related to environment and natural resources. The commission should be empowered to act as per the needs of the environment and to protect the environmental rights of people of Punjab to get clean air, pure water, safe and nutritious food and for the preservation of the natural, historical, aesthetic, cultural and spiritual beauty and values of the environment.
In fact, the Constitution of India has laid down in its Directive Principles of State Policy the following duties for the State and the Citizen.
Article 48 states that “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.” Article 51A, states that “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.”
Punjab as a State and its Citizens individually and collectively have not only failed to perform the duties expected of us, but has also violated the constitutional provision. This is not just a legal question of non-compliance but a question of an impending failure to survive as a society, in a healthy and ecologically sustainable and productive manner.
Hence, one of the primary purposes of the State Environment Commission must be to ensure that the State and Citizens perform the duties demanded of them under the Article 48 and 51A, namely to protect and improve the natural environment.
The natural resources of Punjab are the common property of all the people who are living at present. Not only that, but this life support system, has to be maintained and cherished in such a way that the generations to come can also benefit from it. The present generation is a mere trustee and as trustees of these resources it is our duty to conserve them for coming generations.
Punjab Environment Fund: To mobilize resources for environmental tasks and to spread awareness of community initiatives the. state government should establish a Punjab Environment Fund by pledging Rs. 100 crores as initial money. Then it should appeal to the Punjabi community and particularly to the Punjabi diasporas settled abroad to donate to this fund. Industry and business establishments could also contribute to the fund. Donations to the fund should be covered under the 80-G Income Tax Act.
Making available Fuel-Fruit-Fodder-Manure supply through Planting of Trees: A comprehensive programme may be started for ecological revival with the intention of providing natural manure, fuel wood, fodder and fruits for the overall benefit of soil, cattle and human beings. A time bound programme for planting of trees, especially indigenous species is required. This programme can be linked to schools in every village. It should also be linked to the NREGP (National Rural Employment Guaranty Programme). This will be one of the biggest investments for the overall development of the state.
Protection of catchment area of important dams: While irrigation is a great asset in Punjab, there is very little being done to protect its catchment areas, and in the long run these dams would be rendered useless and incapable of water storage. Moreover, loss of forests will also have a serious impact on ground water recharge, and surface water availability. The protection of the catchment areas of the dams should be taken up on priority and should be linked to NREGP. These are investments that would improve the situation of water availability immensely.
Develop a Strategy and Action Plan for Sustainable Agriculture: The agriculture of Punjab needs a fresh vision for its sustainability, as well as sustainability of its natural resources. Currently, agriculture has not only destroyed the household nutritional security of farmers but has also made them dependent on the market for daily needs. As eminent agriculture scientist and policy expert Dr. Devinder Sharma rightly says, “Emphasis on commodities approach during the Green Revolution has encouraged monocultures, loss of biodiversity, encouraged food trade in some commodities, distorted domestic markets, and disrupted the micro-nutrient availability in soil, plant, animals and for humans. Thrust on farm commodities has also pushed in trade activities, encouraged food miles, adding to greenhouse emissions, water mining, and destruction of farm incomes. The need is to revert back to the time-tested farming systems that relied on mixed cropping and its integration with farm animals, thereby meeting the household and community nutrition needs from the available farm holdings. “
Such an approach will need a paradigm shift in approach and thinking. To take up this issue with urgent priority the SAD-BJP Government should formulate a policy and action plan with a fixed time frame to promote sustainable agricultural practices and eco-friendly methods of farming like organic and natural farming. Special budget allocations shall be made available for the purpose. The major focus of this strategy should be:
To draw a balance sheet of the collapse of Green Revolution. We need to know what went wrong with agriculture, so that we don't repeat the same mistakes. A post-mortem of the Green Revolution is absolutely necessary.
To draw a map of the soil health of Punjab. In the future, all crop introductions should be based on soil health. If a crop (including cash crops) has the possibility of destroying the soil fertility and thereby accentuating the ecological crisis, that cropping system should not be allowed.
A biodiversity-based system of agriculture should be promoted, with support for indigenous varieties of cattle, other animals, and seeds. Incentives should be offered for farmers to implement this system.
Attracting youth through awareness building, and making agriculture economically viable, and hence attractive as a livelihood option. This means there must be support for the youth to take up agriculture and related activities.
A cultural revival focused on reviving the farming culture of the state and upholding its heritage and pride as an agrarian state and food supplier to the nation.
A farm-based approach rather than crop-based approach in agriculture planning and supports
Support to form framers’ collectives in production, farm management and marketing, and ensuring procurement by government agencies, to avoid price fluctuations.
Awareness-building about harmful effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and the phasing-out of chemical pesticides through capacity-building among farmers, women’s groups and local entrepreneurs to produce organic inputs locally. All these have already been successfully developed and tried in many states without reducing the outputs.
Changing the syllabus of Agriculture University to suit to this approach, meaning building the capacity of agriculture students to understand the local ecology and needs for an ecological revival of Punjab. This can include forestry and fisheries students also.
The phasing-out of investments and increased outlays for agricultural research based on external chemical inputs like fertiliser and pesticides. Instead, financial allocations should be made for reviving low-input agriculture, which uses cheap and locally available technology and, in turn, improves production, reduces the cost of production and protects the environment.
The role of technology, too, needs to be ascertained. Pesticides were promoted blindly on rice, for instance. The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines now says that pesticides on rice were a waste of time and effort in Asia. But meanwhile, pesticides usage has already taken a huge toll, and pushed farmers in a debt trap.
Agricultural research must reorient itself to learn from the existing sustainable farming models. The focus of genetically modified crops must immediately stop as it is risky and expensive for the farmer. This has been amply demonstrated in several parts of the world.
Water productivity and efficiency has to be the hallmark of agricultural research based on the local conditions.
Dr. Davinder Sharma also suggests a few additional items:
a) Contract farming can compound the agrarian crisis. Contract farming provides companies to go in for still intensive farming systems thereby destroying the soil productivity.
b) It has been observed that contract farming on average requires 20 per cent more application of chemical inputs and ten per cent more mining of ground water.
c) It is therefore important that all contract farming approvals be based on farm sustainability parameters. Contract must specify that the company will return the land back to the farmer (which it takes on lease) in the same fertility conditions that existed at the time of the contract.
d) Corporate agriculture must be discouraged. All over the world, agribusiness companies have displaced farmers. This cannot be allowed in India, which supports 65-crores of people on the farm.
e) Exotic as well as hybrid seeds should be discouraged. These have been primarily responsible for making the lands sick. The thrust should be on traditional seeds.
Punjab State Policy on Natural and Eco-Sustainable Farming: Lastly, the government announced that it will form an Organic Farming Policy for the state. But it did not materialize and as of yet, there is no such policy for the state. As eco-sustainable agriculture is the need of the hour for Punjab, it should have a proper policy for the same. It is time to take the initiative to formulate a policy framework for natural and organic farming promotion. Punjab government should invite suggestions and inputs from all the stakeholders and partners for sustainable development before formulating any policy. Public hearings and dialogue must be initiated to make the policy people-oriented and realistic. Moreover, the policy formulation process should be farmer-centric and must be with a bottom-up approach. Again this task can not be entrusted to Green Revolution mindset experts; it has be entrusted to individuals who want to see the new paradigm implemented.
Task Force on Natural & Sustainable Farming: To develop this strategy and action plan the Punjab Government should form a Task Force on Natural & Sustainable Farming on the lines of the Task Force on Organic Farming headed by Dr. Kunwarji Bhai Jadav. The proposed task force for Punjab should be headed by a person with vast experience in natural and organic farming and should be a practicing farmer. This monumental task cannot be left to those who are responsible for the present crisis, they should not be asked to provide solutions.
Moreover, the government should make a serious attempt to implement the recommendations made by task force headed by Dr. Kunwarji Bhai Jadhav. This will build a positive atmosphere for natural and sustainable farming in Punjab.
State Farmers’ Income Commission: At a time when farmers are increasingly being burdened with growing indebtedness, are threatening to quit agriculture (as per the NSSO more than 40 per cent farmers would prefer to quit agriculture), and are reeling under the impact of the WTO-induced policy changes, more and more farmers are seeing a reduction in their net income from their farms. This has triggered them to seek more credit, which banks and moneylenders gladly offer. All this has led to a situation where most of our farmers are in serious debt. Hence, there is an urgent need to augment the farmers’ net income through economically beneficial activity. The best method now that will ensure an assured income to the farmers is to actually pay them a de-coupled income on a monthly basis. Food policy analyst Devinder Sharma has suggested this. He says, “To revive agriculture from the abyss of low growth and mass suicides, farmers desperately need an income commission as a social security net.” The State Farmers Income Commission should work out a minimum monthly income for the farmers, based on minimum land-holdings and de-coupled from production.
Institute for Natural & Sustainable Agriculture: An Institute for Sustainable & Natural Agriculture should be setup, and headed by a person with vast experience in natural and organic farming practices. This institute shall be autonomous in working, policy formulations and adoption of techniques. The institute shall be guided by an Advisory Council drawing experts and practicing farmers from all over the country. The management of this institute shall be entrusted to a governing council. This council shall have representation from the civil society organizations and practicing organic and natural farmers with farming experience.
Research Project on Pesticide consumption and residue: As Punjab has one of highest levels of pesticide consumption in India, it subsequently has the highest pesticide load on its people and eco-system. Punjab is already facing severe adverse impacts of agro-chemicals used in last four decades. Now at this crucial juncture, the Punjab Government should take bold steps to ensure a safe environment and eco-system to the future of generations of Punjab. For this the Punjab Government should take these steps:
1. Complete a detailed study on pesticide consumption patterns in Punjab.
2. The government should immediately ban aggressive marketing of pesticides including all forms of advertisements, publicity and promotion schemes for pesticides and other agro-chemicals along with all incentives given to the pesticide and agro-chemical dealers’ network.
3. Raise awareness about the dangers of pesticide use through well-financed education campaigns. These must ensure the dissemination of information on ill effects of pesticides to all users.
4. The government should evolve an action plan for the immediate and time-bound phasing out of the most deadly pesticides: class I a, I b and II.
5. The vital task of properly compiling residue data, already generated by the agriculture universities.
Develop an alternative local (domestic) marketing strategy, especially for Organic Produce: The government must take steps to ensure the right price for the produce, without the exploitation of middlemen, including the big retail companies, (the shopping malls and supermarkets) who are now monopolizing the markets. It is possible to develop an alternative domestic market for food produce, especially organic through the concepts like an Organic Bazaar (running in five cities in India) and the Participatory Guarantee System of Organic Standards Certification (accepted by IFOAM), which is not costly and exploitative and is based on a faith, accountability and integrity based system.
Census on Farmers’ suicides and debt
Punjab has witnessed thousands of farmers’ suicides in last fifteen years. Despite several studies, the actual number of suicides committed by farmers in Punjab is not yet clear. According to one participatory survey done by Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta) Ugrahan the suicide number is more then 13,000. But there are other figures also. In absence of any proper comprehensive survey, the definite and authentic number of farmer’s suicide is not available. Beside farmers’ suicides several landless laborers have also been forced to end their lives and they are not counted for. The situation of debt is the same. Though it is clear that Punjab has one of the highest debts on its farmers, the exact agrarian debt is not explicitly clear. Therefore it is high time to undertake an all inclusive special census on farmers’ suicides and agriculture debt. This census must include the aspect of widows and children of farmers. What is their situation, their financial status and social security?
In most cases, suicides are a social stigma which hunts farmers after declared defaulter by banks / money lenders and the subsequent taking of their land, house or tractor. The government can avert these tragedies by simply banning confiscation by money lenders. Banks should be directed not to confiscate the movable and immovable property of defaulting farmers. Nor should farmers be put in prison. In this context, the government must accept the demands written in ‘A Peasant Proposal for stopping the present trend of Suicides in Peasantry’ submitted by eight farmers’ organisations in September last year.
Food and Water
The depletion and contamination of water resources and providing safe potable water to the people are among the most severe crises of Punjab. The water crisis in Punjab is escalating day by day. In 1984 there were 53 blocks listed as dark zones, in 1995 they were 84 and in 2005 the figure went up to 108, out of total 138 development blocks in Punjab. The groundwater level is falling much faster than assumed. In 1973 only 3% of the area of Punjab had a 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 went beyond expectations when 90% of the area of Punjab was drawing water from the depth of more then 10 meters. Moreover 30% of the area of Punjab draws water from a depth of 20 meters or even more. In 1980 there were 3,712 villages identified as having drinking water problem. This figure went up to 6,287 in 1990, and then in year 2000 the number went as high as 8,518 and as of now 11,849 villages or habitations out of total 12,423 in Punjab are facing drinking water problems. This is a situation that has clearly occurred due to the high exploitation of groundwater without any effort to conserve. Considering this problem, the SAD-BJP government should initiate a state level water conservation drive with all inclusive community participation. The state government should formulate a time bound action plan to rejuvenate the old water bodies (pond and lakes) and to build new ones across the villages of Punjab by involving Panchayati Raj Institutions, civic bodies, farmers and farmers groups, village youth clubs, civil society groups, religious and social organizations, educational institutes and various governmental departments. The falling water levels in Punjab are being viewed very seriously by the experts. It is being predicted that the land of Punjab is will be barren in the coming few decades if the things are not corrected on a war footing. We are at a crossroads; we have to drive Punjab out of this devastation. Conserving water is like conserving life. But how this will happen? Who has to take initiative? And why has the Punjabi society become so ignorant about water? How has the sacred relation between water and society been lost? These questions have to be answered before evolving any conservation strategy and action plan. The civil society has to be recognized as the rightful custodian of water and its involvement for a larger role is must for the success of this rescue mission. The crisis has to be tackled holistically. The vision, the approach, the strategy and action has to be holistic. Man has taken control of all water resources and this control is absolute; it displaces other creatures and their natural right over water – this is a brutal attempt. It is an injustice to other forms of nature. This may ultimately lead to the destruction of human civilization.
We inherited a water tradition which was de-centralized and managed by the community, the stakeholders’ themselves. Each community has its own water-order, that treats water as an integral part of nature, not a mere resource used to meet ever increasing human demands. This water-order is reflected in our social customs, traditions, beliefs and knowledge systems. It was so interwoven in a multi-fabric structure that it is in symbiosis with the very identity of society. Environmental justice to all living beings and sustainability are the foundations of this water-order. It covers all aspects of environmental, agricultural and economic sustainability along with social and cultural security. This water-order has an inbuilt institution of water conservation and enforcing water laws. It also defines our relation with water. Unfortunately, Punjab has lost its inherited water-order.
To begin with, let the people of Punjab have a water budget. As we manage our finances by budgeting, the water has to be budgeted too. It has to be done on various scales, such as individual, village, block, district, town, geo-climatic sub-zone, river basins, the entire state and then sectoral levels like agriculture, industry and domestic supply. This water budget shall be based on equity, sustainability and harmony with nature along with social and environmental justice. We have to think about sustainable consumption pattern also. Gandhiji has said that earth has enough to fulfill everyone’s needs but not for their greed. There is no limitation to consumption, if there is no budgeting. We are living as if there is an increasing water supply, but there is a limit, so how far we can go? A systematic effort to reduce man’s demand of water is earnestly required. The western approach to consumption is that happiness is like ever walking without ending according to Tagore. Can the people of Punjab think about this aspect? We have to identify the potentially unnecessary consumption demands of man; we have to differentiate between need and demand by greed.
Water should be available to everyone, without any discrimination or hassle. The systems imposed by the new economic order of globalization by the World Bank and international funding agencies, will certainly leave no scope for the interdependent life systems of shared and community governance. The new water pricing policy is going to rout our social systems too. The drinking water cannot be and should not be controlled by the market forces. We have to prioritize the water supply according to social and environmental justice and make the pricing system based on these. Drinking water is very basic human right and the government has to ensure that the public stand post must work. First the community institutions were dismantled, the colonial regime has taken over entire control and it was continued even after independence and now the GOI, Planning Commission along with the World Bank are talking about community management. Now the government proposed to hand over water supply to PRIs, but it will certainly not work. The society that has lost its capacity, its water vision and water-order can not manage its resources on its own. It was made handicapped for colonial interests and we did not rectify this after independence. Earlier the society was striped of its sense of relation with water and now all of a sudden the government wants them to manage.
State Water Policy: The State of Punjab needs to have a Water Policy, which encourages and ensures conservation and equitable supply and use; revival of traditional water sources; protection and stringent punishment for exploitation of pollution of water sources. Punjab has had a draft water policy for the last two years, which is not circulated for discussion. Moreover, this draft has very little to do with water as a heritage and a common property resource. It is based on the National Water Policy and is very much corporate driven. The new government of Punjab should dare to take a bold decision to redraft the state water policy very much in accordance with the water heritage, ethos and values of Punjab. The government should immediately call an open dialogue on water policy and must circulate the present draft for wider public participation in water governance.
Watershed approach in planning: The SAD-BJP Government should shift its focus from large water and irrigation projects, causing massive loss to the state’s finances, and not yielding expected production or water supply goals. It should start a watershed based approach in land-crop-water management so that water availability is, as much as possible, ensured in the watershed. Such an approach will ensure revival of traditional water management systems and sources and would bring in participation in conservation and using of water resources. It should encourage less water-demanding crops in areas with acute water shortages and encourage water conservation measures like mulching and natural farming. These are important steps for water conservation and land management.
Make rainwater harvesting mandatory: The SAD-BJP Government should make rainwater harvesting mandatory in all of Punjab except in areas under water logging. This should be implemented in a phased manner with community participation. This programme should cover rural and urban areas. Farmers should be encouraged to make farm ponds in their farms.
Reviving water bodies: Once Punjab had thousands of water bodies, ponds and wetlands. In the last three decades most of these water bodies have disappeared due to large scale encroachments, destruction of catchments areas, unmindful constructions in water channels, ruining the entire water ecology of the state and damaging biodiversity as well. This has also caused steep fall in the rate of groundwater recharging. The Government should evolve a strategy to revive ponds, reservoirs and wetlands. For this the Government should take a bold step for the removal of encroachments and must ensure the treatment of catchments areas. Drains and rivulets should be developed as water-harnessing structures.
Giving life back to Rivers: The present scenario of rivers of Punjab is very disgusting. The once mighty rivers full of life and joy were lost somewhere. The high contamination is destroying them. The Punjab Government must evolve a river action plan to revive life in rivers and rivulets. At the same time, the new Government’s initiative to release the funds for Holy Kali Bein project is a welcome step.
Save Water Mission: To administer this community-led initiative, a ‘Save Water Mission’ should be formed with the large scale partnership of community groups. An advisory board drawing water experts and water warriors from all over India shall be constituted to steer the proposed Save Water Mission. A Water Literacy Programme should also be started in schools, among general public and farmers by the Save Water Mission.
Safe food for Punjabis: The data from All India Coordinated Research Project on Pesticidal Residue clearly indicates the presence of DDT, HCH and BHC in cereals, milk, butter, fruits, vegetables and even infant formula samples from Punjab. The edibles have residues of other pesticides like Phosphamidon, Quinalphos, Chlorpyriphos, Endosulfan, Malathion, Parathion, Monocrotophos and lindane. This is an alarm bell for a devastation in offing. Moreover the presence of pesticides in blood as detected by the Centre for Science and Environment also raises serious questions. The CSE report cites the presence of a cocktail of 6 to 13 pesticides in blood samples. CSE also finds organo-chlorine and residues of the newer and so-called ‘non-persistent’ pesticides, organophosphates, in blood. The rising levels of these dangerous chemicals in human bodies, bodies of other living beings, in the soil, water and food items, much beyond safe limits, is the alarm bell to take corrective steps urgently. This situation demands that pesticide-free food must be first offered to Punjabi people, but the state agency for organic farming the Punjab State Organic Farming Council, has its entire thrust on the export of organic foods. The wider question is, is pesticide-free produce meant only for foreign markets? Do the ordinary citizens of Punjab not have right to get pesticide-free food? The Organic Farming Council of Punjab seems not to have any vision and commitment in this regard. The new Government should take the initiative to revamp and reconstitute the organic farming council, with a thrust on ensuring availability of nutritious, pesticide and chemical-free food to Punjabis first.
Epidemiological and environmental Mapping of Punjab: The first and foremost thing the government should do is to undertake a widespread and multicentric epidemiological and environmental mapping through an extensive study and participatory research, to assess the magnitude and specificity of ill-health especially due to contamination of food, water and air with pesticides and other chemical inputs of agriculture. At present there are no statistics available to know the type of health problems being caused by these poisonous agriculture inputs. In addition to that industry is shamelessly throwing its toxic waste in the water bodies-rivers, canals, seasonal drains, sewers and even in the groundwater through pits, wells and tube wells etc. Burning of fossil fuels is the third devil in this context. Strangely there is either no monitoring for these criminal acts or if it is there, no remedial action is taken. The latest revelations about gross pollution of Kali Benin, Buddha Nalah, Sutlej River and ground water of Ludhiana are well known. The people have a right to know the type and extent of damage being done to our water bodies by the polluting industry. We also want to know what type of health problems are being caused by these acts. But unfortunately there are no research/statistics to know all these vital facts.
To know about these things is quite a difficult task firstly because the quality of health statistics is very poor in the state and secondly the medical profession is not aware of the health problems related to the toxic effects of the pesticides and other poisonous chemicals being used very extensively in Punjab. This is particularly true about the long term and chronic ill-effects of these poisons like falling body immunity, increasing prevalence of various types of cancers, increasing incidence of spontaneous abortions, congenital abnormities in the new born children and many more.
The existing infrastructure of the health department for the collection, compilation and analysis of data about various diseases is very poor. This is even truer about these newer problems being caused by the toxic effects of various chemical poisons.
The statistics regarding acute poisoning which is also very common are available to some extent. But here also, the reported cases of acute poisoning are only a fraction of the total problem. The reason being that because of the police harassment and social stigma associated with poisoning, people don’t come to the government hospitals because they are bound to report to the police (it is worth mentioning here that otherwise also only 25% of the sick people come to government hospitals for treatment).Private hospitals are not reporting such cases- neither to police nor to the health department. If the patient survives it is fine and if he or she dies it is silently cremated. It is an open secret that accidental acute poisoning because of the pesticides is quite common because the prescribed precautions are rarely followed while spraying or handling these insecticides.
These are newer health problems not taught to the doctors by standard textbooks. There is an urgent need to sensitize and train health professionals to identify such health problems and then to evolve the ways to treat, mitigate and educate the people to take preventive measures. This will be possible only if our doctors know the epidemiology of these diseases. To do that, we need public health specialists, who have been fully sensitized to these health problems. We should put at least one such epidemiologist in each district and appoint a team of senior and experienced epidemiologists at the state level to analyze the data and evolve a strategy for the entire state. As there are increasing numbers of reports that the prevalence of cancers has increased significantly, particularly in the cotton belt, the health department should spread awareness to make the cancer easily detectable and should make a cancer registry compulsory in all government and private hospitals.
Institute for Environmental Health Research and Studies: Considering the urgency of the situation, and also to act as a research support centre for the Environment Commission and for conducting the environmental audit etc., it is proposed that an Institute for Environment Health Research and Studies be setup. An eminent environmental epidemiologist of international repute and experience must head the institute; with its headquarters preferably at an area worst affected with acute environmental health problems, like Bhatinda. The institute should have regional centers in various regions of the state, and must work collaboratively with environmental, health and farmer-based organizations.
Environmental Health Crisis Mitigation Task Force: Even while the assessment is being done, an environmental health crisis of this intensity can only be mitigated by large scale community intervention and participation. Thus the new government should form an Environmental Health Crisis Mitigation Task Force under the aegis of Institute for Environmental Health Research and Studies with the majority participation from NGOs and farmer groups. A senior Epidemiologist or Environmentalist should head this task force with powers minimum of the secretary rank of the government. This task force should be constituted by taking members from medical fraternity, social activists, and teachers of life sciences, farmers and experts from various governmental departments. The primary work of this task force would be to prepare and implement a Comprehensive Relief and Remedial Programme in the acutely affected areas. The entire medical fraternity and medical students must be involved in this programme to rejuvenate the health of the community. The medical fraternity needs to be sensitized and for that the syllabi of medical studies must be suitably augmented to include specific content on toxicology and contemporary issues.
Declare ecological and environmental health emergency in South Malwa: The southwestern Malwa region has been identified as facing the most severe environmental health crisis. The use of toxic chemicals is the highest in this belt. This entire area should be treated as a toxic hot spot. To focus its efforts, the government must declare and impose immediately the state of ecological and environmental health emergency in the entire belt. For this, specially drawn plans are needed with a specific focus on natural and organic farming, with adequately allocated funds for the targeted problem.
Establishment of cancer detection and Cancer Hospital in Malwa: Since cancer has emerged as a major health problem of Punjab, establishment of cancer detection centers and cancer treatment centers is the need of the state. For this, urgent funds may be provided to all medical colleges in the state to establish oncology departments. PGIMER, Chandigarh may be provided funds and asked to supervise establishment of these departments and to provide oncology physicians and surgeons and technical manpower for running the support facilities. In addition to this, Cancer Hospital must be established in Malwa to provide comprehensive advanced care to cancer patients. Presently there is no such center in this part of the country. Patients have to go to neighboring Bikaner and other places for basic treatment of cancer. At the same time, its oncology department may be expanded and upgraded to act as apex referral institution in the line of Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai for the patients referred from Medical Colleges and other hospitals in the state. In fact, this should be announced in the budget session of the Punjab assembly. This issue was identified by the SAD and has been promised in their election manifesto also.
Include ecology in Syllabus: The State Education Department should make necessary interventions in the syllabus preparations for schools – both government and private. There is an urgent need to focus on the ecology and culture of Punjab. We must teach the youngsters about biodiversity, traditional food and lifestyle in relation to health, economy, ecology and the culture of our state. Though the Supreme Court has made it mandatory, it is not taken seriously. Many a time children are being taught about global issues like ozone layer, but know very little about the dark water availability zones in Punjab. Moreover, practical training must also be imparted to take up environment monitoring and ecological restorative activities, compulsorily as part of the curriculum. The textbooks in Punjab need to be redesigned, incorporating the environmental crisis engulfing Punjab and its people.
The environment as a subject has to be taught with proper concentration, orientation, and involvement. It also requires a specialization and vision with regular updating of information on environmental issues. But at present the teachers who were teaching other subjects have been given the additional charge of environmental subjects. Not even a single teacher was recruited as an environment teacher. The new government should create posts of environment teachers in all middle schools. This will also enhance the capacity of eco-clubs working in these schools.
Farming in syllabus: In an agricultural state such as Punjab, the students in schools and colleges must know, learn and practice agriculture as part of their curriculum. This would instill in them a respect for this divine work, and at the same time, encourage them to continue farming in their families. This is important, as more and more children of farmers are leaving farming, which is very disturbing and is going to have very dangerous consequences for the state.
Industry and Urbanization
Industries are major drivers of the economy, and there were even times in the nation when the slogan was “Industrialize or Perish.” Today, with a growth rate of 10% in the country, mainly due to industrial and service sector growth, we had a situation where the agricultural growth was abysmal, leading to an acknowledged statistics of 1.5 lakh farmer suicides in just 10 years. This is a shameless and dangerous situation. To reverse this situation, we have to refocus our industries to the slogan of “Production by the masses rather than mass production.” This means developing small and medium-scale industries that generate mass employment and support the rural sector with additional jobs (and not displaced jobs). The present paradigm of Special Economic Zones, even with a good compensation package will eventually drive the displaced farmer to penury, as the family will not be able to cope with the changing social and economic demand of the times and with no other livelihood options given to them. Moreover, such displacements have their worst impact on women and children.
Any drive to industrialize the state should be done clearly with the following focus:
a) Industries should not be pollutive and exploitative and use resources that are replenishable, locally available and help the local economy most.
b) Industries should be sustainable in the long run, depend on local and domestic market and are not seriously influenced by external factors. These industries should use agricultural raw materials, and have a huge domestic demand.
c) Industries should not need huge amounts of subsidies and special incentives such as those offered in SEZ’s.
d) Industries should not displace already locally available livelihoods, for example the multinational retail sector will destroy local traders.
e) Industries should not produce huge amounts of solid/liquid and gaseous waste, especially chemical factories, which would invariably destroy the environment, even with the best controls.
Proper Waste management: The throwing of toxic and non-biodegradable waste into water bodies and on the land is wreaking havoc on the environment in Punjab. A SAD-BJP Government must adopt a Zero Waste approach for waste management, whereby, we eliminate the concept of waste, by adopting recyclable and reusable materials and avoiding the throwing away, land filling or incineration of waste, and following full reuse/recycling of discards. This will also supply a number of jobs in producing sustainable materials instead of the pollutive materials like plastics.
We must acknowledge that our model of development as pursued in the last few decades has resulted in serious conflicts among the users and sharers of our resources. This has resulted in gross distortions in the economy and development of the state. We must also recognise that Punjab’s environment and natural resources cannot just be considered resources for exploitation and destruction. They are basic life-supporting systems that need to be cherished and protected for the overall well-being of all citizens and for future generations. But we have seen that almost uniformly, we have a situation of overexploitation, misuse and extreme degradation of our natural resources, environment and ecology. There are almost no efforts for replenishment or remedial action. The impact this has created on the life supporting system is leading Punjab into an ecological disaster. But it is also significant that the protection of the environment in Punjab has become a serious social and political issue at the grassroots level as well as at the state level. This is no more just an academic issue or only a question of civil conflicts. Now it is a state concern in the truest sense.
It is imperative that, to meet the envisaged growth targets in all the developmental sectors, the Punjabi Community start conserving and replenishing the environment rather that only exploiting and consuming the precious natural resources and the environment. Only such an approach will help provide the necessary resource base for the overall growth of their lives, livelihoods, incomes and quality of living. The strategies, plans and actions developed and implemented by the government as part of the “Green Agenda for Sustainable Punjab,” is meant to bring about this change in behavior of all Punjabis.
Many other development sectors may be influenced by this Agenda, either positively or negatively in the short run, but in the long run, it will turn out to be really beneficial. Hence, it should be made obligatory that all plans and actions developed for other sectors must be harmonized with the plans and policies developed as part of the Green Agenda for Sustainable Punjab.
We must remember that for progress we depend on three resources: Environment and Natural Resources, Human Resources and Financial Resources. It is the creative and judicious management of these that any development plan should focus on. Human Resources can be created through training and education and through bringing expertise when needed from outside. Financial Resources are also translatable, but their creation needs enterprise and that can be developed only if both Human Resources and Environment and Natural Resources are available. Here, we see that the Environment and Natural Resources are crucial, because they cannot be easily created and can be only used and replenished if we are really cautious, intelligent and creative. The whole thrust of the Green Agenda is towards creating such a framework to enhance this natural resource base, that will provide the means for the well-being of all. In our country we also have a Spiritual resource, which is the driving force, the will to go forward. We hope and pray that this government has the spiritual resource and the political will to shoulder this Agenda and ensure a Sustainable Green Punjab.