Summary and Recommendations
of Dialogue on
“Environmental Health Crisis in
Environmental Health Action Group,
5-6 January 2008 at
A convention of doctors, veterinarians, agriculture scientists, economists, researchers, intellectuals, social activists, NGO representatives and farmers was held in
Several doctors who spoke in the convention were of the firm opinion that scientific evidences available up to now clearly shows that pesticides, chemical fertilizers and heavy metals which are the main pollutants of environment and ecosystem in Punjab are known for their toxicity as immunotoxic, neurotoxic, renotoxic, endocrinal disrupters, genotoxic, teratogenic, embryotoxic, foetotoxic and carcinogens. The prevalence of all these types of toxicity and their manifestation are clearly rising in
There is a clear evidence of lowering of herd immunity; increased prevalence of spontaneous abortion, congenital abnormalities, decreased sperm count, childless couples, early onset of puberty among the female, late onset of puberty in males, various types of cancer, mental retardation and autism in children , menstrual abnormalities in women and hormonal disturbances etc.
The rapid degradation of natural resources like soil and water in a state like
Prominent amongst the speakers were:
- Dr. S. G. Kabra, Environmental Epidemiologist, Jaipur (Rajasthan);
- Dr. Inderjit Kaur, Chairperson, All
Pingalwara Society, India ; Amritsar
- Dr. Devinder Sharma, Food and Agriculture Policy analyst,
; New Delhi
- Dr. Sucha Singh Gill, Professor, Economics Department,
, Punjabi University ; Patiala
- Dr B S Joia, Senior Entamologist,
( Retd), PAU Ludhiana
- Dr. Satish Jain, Director,
, Mohan Dai Oswal Cancer Hospital ; Ludhiana
- Dr. A.K. Jain, Indian Institute of Pathology, ICMR,
- Dr. G.P.I. Singh, Professor and Head, Department of Community Medicine,
, Dayanand Medical College ; Ludhiana
- Dr. J. S. Thakur, Associate Professor, Department of Community Medicine, PGIMER,
- Dr. Zakir Hussain, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture,
- Dr. Sukhpal Singh, Professor of Economics,
, PAU Ludhiana
- Dr Jaswant Singh Thind , President, IMA, Kapurthala
- Dr. Neelam Sodhi, Gynecologist,
, Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital ; Ludhiana
- Dr. C. Satyamala, Professor,
, JNU, Schoolof Social Sciences ; New Delhi
- Dr Satnam Singh Ladar, Joint Director, PSCS&T,
- Dr. Amar Singh Azad, Pediatrician,
- Dr Parveen Sobati, Pediatrician,
Dayanand Medical College Ludhiana
- Dr. Ashok Goel, Professor, Department of Pharmacology, GOMCO,
- Dr. Ashwini Sharma,
of Veterinary Sciences, Guru Angad Dev University ; Ludhiana
- Dr. Manvir Gupta, IMA District President, Kotkapura;
- Dr. A S Maan , State President,
PunjabHomeopathic Association, Sangrur
- Dr Satish Sharma, State President, NIMA, Jalandhar
- Shri Satnam Singh Manak, Senior Journalist, Daily Ajit, Jalandhur.
- Dr. Rajinder Choudhary, Economics Department. MDU, ROHTAK.
Following are the summary and recommendations passed unanimously in this Convention:
- The environment of
Punjabhas been badly polluted by the excessive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in agriculture; by throwing untreated water of city sewers and industries, containing highly poisonous substances like pesticides, heavy metals and other chemicals into the water bodies like drains, canals and rivers. Such contamination has affected groundwater too. The soil, water and air have been thoroughly poisoned throughout the state, particularly in the Malwa belt, because of excessive use of chemical pesticides on cotton crop. The Malwa has been also poisoned by the untreated water from sewers and industries (having huge amounts of pesticides, heavy metals and large number of other highly poisonous chemicals) which pollute the waters of Satluj river via Budha Nala and East Bein(chitti bein) and Beas river via West Bein(kaali bein) thus carrying the poisonous water of half of Punjab to Hari-Ke-Pattan and further to Malwa belt through the canals. Water has become unfit not only for human consumption but also for cattle and other living organisms including crops. These poisons have already entered the food chain and the human bodies. The levels of these toxins have crossed maximum permissible limits and have severely affected the health and well being of farming communities, amongst others.
- There is ample evidence to show that highly poisonous pesticides, heavy metals and other chemicals present in the soil and water are causing serious health damage. The prevalence/ severity of some of the old infectious diseases are increasing, probably due to effects on human immune system. This is particularly true of viral diseases such as Common Cold, Herpes Zoster, Hepatitis-A and Dengue Fever etc. Tuberculosis is becoming more severe and Multi Drug Resistant. Newer diseases which are more dangerous and life threatening are coming up in a big way such as Hepatitis-B, Hepatitis-C, Hepatitis-E, HIV, SARS, Bird Flue and Chikungunya etc. Some of the parasitic and fungal diseases are also becoming more prevalent and severe too, such as Cycticercosis Scabies, Fungal Infections of Skin and Nails etc. Non-infectious chronic diseases are there in an epidemic form--Hypertension, Coronary Artery and other blood vessel diseases, Diabetes Mellitus, Bones and Joints diseases; Neurological Disorders particularly Peripheral Neuropathies, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinsonism; Psychiatric Disorders, violence of all types, Skin Disorders, Auto-immune and Allergic Disorders, premature graying of hail, excessive falling of hair, Cancers, Reproductive System Disorders (falling sperm count, increasing incidence of Spontaneous Abortions, increasing prevalence of Congenital Malformations, Mental Retardation and Cerebral Palsy, Menstrual Disorders, early onset of puberty in females and delayed onset of puberty in males, erectile dysfunction in males etc.).
Other living beings are also dying en masse and a large number of species is getting eliminated because of unfavorable conditions. The species higher up in the food chain are more affected because of the phenomenon of bio-accumulation/ bio-magnification of toxins. It was unanimously felt that the rise in the prevalence and severity of these diseases and en-masse killing of other species is directly or indirectly related to the presence of environmental toxins in excessive quantities and the model of agriculture being followed after the onset of green revolution.
- The timely initiative of the Punjab Pollution Control Board to sponsor the study taken up by Dr. J. S. Thakur and his team in the Community Medicine Department, PGIMER,
is most welcome. This study, which is the first of its kind in Chandigarh Punjab, has proven that there is much cause for concern in Punjabregarding the environmental health status of its people. This study has observed that even genetic mutations are being caused by the toxins present in the water and soil of Punjab. This means that not just the current generation but the future generations too are going to suffer from the ill effects of a chemically-contaminated Punjab.
Environment Commission: The Government should constitute a ‘Punjab State Environment Commission’ as a statutory body. The proposed Environment Commission would be the first of its kind in Punjab State . 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 India Punjabto 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 endeavor 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
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
- Ecological Agriculture:-The Government should formulate a policy and action plan with a fixed time frame to promote sustainable and ecological agricultural practices and eco-friendly methods of farming like natural and ecological farming. The major focus of this strategy should be:
(A) 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.
(B) While the people of
(C) The current situation is all the more striking, given the fact that alternative models of organic/ natural farming have already been proven to be better and more sustainable than the existing model of chemical agriculture. These are the models which give more net incomes to farmers, relieving them of heavy debt burden than the intensive agriculture models pose. The alternative models also ensure better health for farmers and consumers alike. These models are not just sustainable – contrary to a popular myth, the productivity of farming in the ecological models does not decline, except probably in the first couple of years. In fact, many scientific studies have shown that the productivity of ecological farming models is actually higher in many crops, compared to chemical farming models. Further, recent Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report confirms that organic farming indeed has the ability to feed the growing population on this planet in a sustainable fashion.
(D) Pesticide consumption in Punjab, which is dangerously high in the state (18 % of national consumption with only 1.5% of India’s land), should be brought to 0% within the next 5 years, thus shifting Punjab farming to LEISA (Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture). Other states like Kerala have indeed announced such bold steps. In creating exemplary models of innovative and scientific farming through adoption of ecological models, Punjabi farmers should once again be encouraged to lead the nation by setting an inspiring example for farmers in other states.
(E) Chemical Fertilizers which are not only destroying the fertility of soil but are also poisoning the soil and water should also be phased out in favor of organic manures and natural farming systems in the next 5 years.
(F) Instead of giving huge subsidies to the industry producing pesticides and chemical fertilizers, subsidies and other support should be provided to all the farmers who go in for organic farming, especially for a transitional phase of 3 years. All such farmers are already being given subsidies in
(G) The Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) model of Andhra Pradesh, supported by the Government of Andhra Pradesh and World Bank, which has successfully rid seven lakh acres of land this year of chemical pesticides through Non Pesticides Management (NPM) should be followed in
(H) To encourage Community Based Sustainable Agriculture System (like in Andhra) Punjab Government should encourage Co-operative Ecological Farming System in the state in order to minimize the costs and save the peasants of
(I) A map of the soil health of
(J) A biodiversity-based system of agriculture should be promoted, with support for indigenous varieties of crops, cattle, and seeds. Incentives should be offered for farmers to implement this system.
(K) Attracting youth through awareness building, and making agriculture economically viable, and hence attractive as a livelihood option. This means that there must be support for the youth to take up agriculture and related activities.
(L) 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.
(M) The phasing-out of investments and increased outlays for agricultural research based on external chemical inputs like fertilizers 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.
(N) Phasing-out of chemical pesticides has to be achieved through capacity-building among farmers, women’s groups and local entrepreneurs to produce organic inputs at the household or community level. All these have already been successfully developed and tried in many states without reducing the outputs.
(A) Epidemiological and environmental Mapping of Punjab:The first and foremost thing the government should do is to undertake a epidemiological and environmental mapping of Punjab, to assess the magnitude and type of ill-health especially due to contamination of food, water and air with pesticides, chemical fertilizers and untreated waste water of city sewers and industries. At present there are no statistics available to know the type of health problems being caused by these poisonous chemicals. The 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
It is quite a difficult task to know about these things firstly because the quality of health statistics is very poor in the state and secondly the medical profession itself is not aware of the health problems related to the toxic effects of the pesticides and other poisonous chemicals being used very extensively in
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.
(B)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 regional centers in various regions of the state.
(C) Declare ecological and environmental health emergency in
(D)Facilities for the treatment of cancer cases are very poor in
(E)Animal Health: Plant and human health are closely linked to environment and vice versa. These living beings are highly affected due to the environmental degradation. From the epidemiological stand point it has also been seen that not only plant and human health but the animal health is also being adversely affected due to severe ecological crisis. The veterinary experts pointed out that cancer and reproductive health problems among the animals are becoming more frequent. Thus keeping in mind this argument, KVM recommends that government should take proper action including epidemiological mapping of animal health particularly cancer and reproductive health of the animals.
7. As recommended by the study sponsored by Punjab Pollution Control Board and done by PGIMER,
8. A network of Regional Testing Laboratories should be set up to monitor the levels of toxins in water, soil, air, food chain, livestock and human beings. At present, such testing facilities are almost non-existent or are very costly and beyond the reach of NGOs and the general public.
9. There is a strong evidence of increase in the prevalence of cancers in
10. Reorientation of environmental education with local ecological perspective:
(A). Awareness about the present environmental disaster, in which
(B) There is an urgent need to change the syllabus of
(C) A compulsory and complete course of environmental economics and energy economics which are of an utmost importance should be included in the curriculum of economics in graduation and post-graduation level at all State Universities in Punjab.
This convention demands that the government of Punjab acknowledge the extent and different dimensions of the environmental health crisis as experienced by the people of Punjab, that it takes up immediate relief and rehabilitation measures to mitigate the distress of the affected people like the Kerala government has done in the case of endosulfan victims, that it adopts successful models of ecological farming immediately through the department of agriculture, that it initiates a large scale campaign for creating awareness about the ill effects of agro-chemicals and the possibilities with alternatives and to fix accountability where it is due for the current crisis.
KVM also wants to affirm its commitment to the people, ecology and sustainability of
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