Sunday, July 8, 2007

Task ahead for SAD-BJP government
Green Agenda for Sustainable Punjab

By Umendra Dutt

The SAD-BJP government has assumed office in Punjab. Obviously the new government will announce its plan with in few days. These elections were fought on the issue of development. It is a fashion to brand every economic and construction activity as the development. The development has become very catchy phrase these days. Every body talks about development, but despite being known as developed state Punjab is experiencing the burns of this so-called development. It is one of most debt ridden state; it has witnessed thousands of farmers’ suicides, its environment is one of most degraded, it has almost lost its precious wealth of natural resources, soil health is deteriorated, most of its wetlands and ponds were destroyed and its biodiversity is threatened for extinction, the aquifers are empty and moreover the Punjab is in midst of the most severe environmental health crisis in the world. Ironically this developed state was the first where indebted villages had put themselves on sale.
And yet the our planners and politicians are mesmerized to develop further more on the same lines without any corrections in line of action, without analyzing the errors in the developmental path, without any kind of review and evaluation that what went wrong where and how? There is still a chaos about what should be the development path for Punjab. And notwithstanding the adversities of the unsustainable development, nature abusive agriculture systems and perishable growth model there is no discussion on corrective measures.
The SAD-BJP government has taken the reins at a very crucial juncture; when concerns about ecological crisis and subsequent socio-economic emergency are largely growing in society. The new government can play a historic role by evolving a Green Agenda for Sustainable Punjab. The new government should demonstrate that it is highly concerned about the farmer’s suicides, depleting natural resources, degraded environment, and intense environmental health crisis posing a serious socio-economic and ecological challenge to the state. The new government should resolve to adopt the Green Agenda for a Sustainable Punjab. The new regime should demonstrate that it will build a new Punjab with an imperishable prosperity which will be free of debt, suicides, displacement and diseases caused due to environmental discrepancy.
The new government can ignore the environmental calamity at its own peril. It has therefore a monumental responsibility to restore the pride of Punjab, which is only possible by implementing a green agenda for a sustainable Punjab.

Ecological security is directly linked to agriculture sustainability. Economic growth has already taken a huge toll of the environment. Such growth remains unsustainable in the long run. The very first step that the new government needs to initiate is to prepare a vision document for a sustainable Punjab. It should specifically look at the issue of ecological and agricultural sustainability. Such an approach will need a paradigm shift in approach and thinking.

This monumental task cannot be left to former vice-chancellors, directors and bureaucrats. Unfortunately, the policy makers have refused to realize that those responsible for the crisis cannot be asked to provide solutions. The vision paper should be widely circulated, debated and discussed before the evolving a roadmap that incorporates various parameters of sustainable development.

The first step in this direction the new government can take is that it should bring out its ‘Vision for Sustainable Punjab’ with in minimum stipulated time. The vision paper should target the issue of ecological and agricultural sustainability of Punjab. This vision paper should be widely circulated in public for discussions to evolve a road map for sustainable agriculture, sustainable development and sustainable environment. After all only this kind of sustainability can assure sustainable prosperity to the Punjab. The new government should resolve to make this commitment an agenda for each and every citizen of Punjab. Actually there should be a political and social consensus on this Green Agenda so that this ought to be a participatory action.

Secondly, Punjab also needs to set up two independent commissions. Punjab also needs to set up two independent commissions. At a time when farmers are increasingly being burdened with growing indebtedness, and are willing to quit agriculture (as per the NSSO more than 40 per cent farmers want to quit agriculture), there is an urgent need to provide farmers with a fixed monthly take home income. As suggested by food policy analyst Devinder Sharma “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, there is an urgent need to ensure farmers get an assured income.
The SAD-BJP government should take on priority bases is formation of ‘Punjab State Environment Commission’ as a statuary body with Chief Minister as its Chairman. The proposed Environment Commission will be first of its kind in India. The Environment Commission shall work as highest agency for all issues related to environment and natural resources. The commission shall also protect the environmental rights of people of Punjab to get clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, beautiful, historical, esthetic, cultural and spiritual values of the environment. It will also monitor the environmental duties to be obeyed by the people, as natural resources of Punjab are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. The present generation is mere trustee and as trustees of these resources it is their duty to conserve them for coming generations.

Then another important issue is to establish Cancer Hospital in Malwa region. The new government is bound to do this as this was promised by Akali Dal in its election manifesto. Beside this cancer hospital the new government should take the care of entire environmental health scenario in Punjab. As cancer is only one aspect of environmental health catastrophe, there are other dimensions also to this crisis. There is urgent need to establish Punjab Institute for Environmental Health Research and Studies in Malwa region. The proposed institute should be headed by an eminent environmental epidemiologist of the international repute and exposure. The institute shall have Regional Centers in various regions of the State. Then, another most important step the SAD-BJP government must take is to undertake a widespread and multicentric environmental epidemiological mapping through an extensive study and participatory research. This study is already recommended by PGIMER –PPCB study on cancer, interestingly the previous government had put all recommendations in dust bin only. The new government can take lead in this issue. This study must be entrusted to the proposed Institute for Environmental Health Research.

The Environmental health crisis with such intensity can only be mitigated by large scale community intervention and participation thus the new government should form an Environmental Health Mitigation Task Force under the aegis of Institute for Environmental Health with majority participation from NGOs and farmer groups. A senior Epidemiologist or Environmentalist should head this task force with powers minimum of the secretary rank to the Government. This task force would be constituted by taking members from medical fraternity, social activists, and teachers of life sciences, farmers and experts from various governmental departments.

The south western Malwa is facing most severe environmental health crisis. This entire area should be treated as the toxic hot spot. To focus its efforts government must declared and imposed immediately the state of ecological and environmental health emergency in the entire belt. For this specially drawn plans are needed with specific focus on the natural and organic farming, with adequately allocated funds for the targeted problem.

The agriculture of Punjab needs a fresh vision for its sustainability as well as sustainability of natural resources. 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 various eco-friendly methods of farming. Special budget allocations should be made available for the purpose. There should be a bottom-up formulation of a coherent Sustainable Agriculture Policy for the state of Punjab. This should have a pro-organic stance.

The SAD-BJP government should evolve special support systems to promote sustainable agriculture practices of natural and organic farming. The government should take lead to implement the recommendations made by Task Force on Organic Farming headed by Dr. Kunwarji Bhai Jadav constituted by NDA government in centre, which brought out its report in November 2001. The implementation of these recommendations shall become an instrument to empower farmers and local economy.

The new government should provide incentives to farmers for community level production and supply of natural and organic inputs and produce as it is offered by some other states. The Government should also make sure that farmers get proper price for their natural and organic produce. Of course there is Punjab State Organic Farming Council is already working in this direction. But, its entire thrust is export orientated certainly it will not benefit the farmers of Punjab. More over there is wider question that is pesticide free produce is only meant for foreign markets? Do the ordinary citizen of Punjab not have right to get pesticide free stuff? When 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 samples from Punjab and the edibles have residues of other pesticides like Phosphamidon, Quinalphos, Chlorpyriphos, Endosulfan, Malathion, Parathion, Monocrotophos and lindane, it is a alarm bell for a devastation in offing. More over 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 situation demands that pesticide free food must be first offered to Punjabi people, but Organic Farming Council of Punjab has no vision and commitment in this regard. The new government should take initiative to revamp and reconstitute the organic farming council.

The SAD-BJP government can set an example for rest of country by establishing an autonomous Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in Punjab headed by a person with vast experience in natural and organic farming practices. This institute should be autonomous in working, policy formulations and adoption of techniques. The institute shall be guided by an governing Council drawing experts and practicing farmers from all over the country. This council shall have representation from the civil society organizations and practicing organic and natural farmers with a bottom up approach.

As Punjab has suffered the most severe ecological crisis, thus it needs a paradigm shift to save from ecological suicide. Let be there first ever ecological audit to seek an analysis on ecological condition of Punjab. A high power working group has to be constituted by involving independent experts to take up this study. This group must be free from green revolution mindset. This is indeed very important to get a clear picture of ecological damages and hence to evolve a strategy for ecological revival and environmental sustainability of the Punjab.

Other critical issue of ecological sustainability is crisis of water resources. Depletion and contamination of water resources and providing safe potable water to the people is one of the most sought after task for the new government in Punjab. The water crisis in Punjab is escalating day by day. In 1984 there were 53 blocks 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. Ground water level falling much faster then assumed. In 1973 only 3% area of Punjab has water table below 10 meters, it goes 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. In 1980 there were 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.
It is high time to save every drop of water by a participatory community action. Punjab has sufficient amount of rain fall and harnessing the rain water shall revive its empty ground water aquifers. More over the traditional water wisdom could provide potable water to large number of villages in Malwa, where water scarcity has brought doom for the villagers.

The SAD-BJP government should make rain water harvesting mandatory in whole of Punjab accept the areas under water logging. To administer this community led initiative, ‘Save Water Mission’ should be formed with large scale membership 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.

Environmental crises are to be dealt holistically, with inter disciplinary interventions and multisectorial approach with large scale community participation in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. ‘Unidirectional and de-bureaucratized’ earnest effort is urgently needed to take up environmental conservation to bring Punjab out of present ecological catastrophe. This is the need of the hour to ensure safe and sustainable future of coming generations of Punjab.

Viewing this problem the SAD-BJP government should initiate a state level water conservation drive with all inclusive community participation. The state government must formulate a time bound action plan to rejuvenate the old and to build new water bodies across the 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. Will the new government make river action plan after learning lessons from innovative initiative of rejuvenating Kali Bain rivulet by Sant Balbir Singh Sencheewal? Government should come forward with a concrete action plan to revive all rivulets and ensure pollution free flow of its rivers.

Lastly the most important aspect of water conservation is State Water Policy. The Punjab has a draft water policy from last two years and it has to be finalized. But, this draft is totally based on National Water Policy which very much corporate oriented. The new government of Punjab should dare to take a bold decision to redraft state water policy very much in accordance with water heritage, ethos and values of Punjab. The government should immediately call open dialogue on water policy and must circulate the present draft for wider public participation in water governance.

These are few urgent tasks chalked out, could be part of Green Agenda for Sustainable Punjab. Would the new government show its commitment for Environmental justice to all living beings and sustainability of natural resources?
The Punjab is awaiting the government that dare to take up the challenge of paradigm shift.

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