State’s contaminated food chain a worry

CHANDIGARH: Punjab, the country’s food basket, has slowly turned into the land of toxicity. Excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers by farmers and a largely indifferent establishment has over the years resulted in severe ecological and environmental degradation that has brought a host of maladies such as contaminated water resources.

State’s contaminated food chain a worry

Vijay Mohan

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 4

Punjab, the country’s food basket, has slowly turned into the land of toxicity. Excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers by farmers and a largely indifferent establishment has over the years resulted in severe ecological and environmental degradation that has brought a host of maladies such as contaminated water resources. According to data available with institutions and experts at the National Organic Farming Convention held here this week, Punjab is among the highest users of chemical fertilisers/pesticides in the country, its consumption being several times more than the national average.

According to a paper authored by Dr AS Azad, Director, Center for Environmental Health, Punjab, the actual use of urea in the state is estimated at 400-600 kg per hectare and that of phosphate 100-200 kg whereas the national average is 88 kg and 39 kg, respectively. Though Punjab has 1.5 per cent of the nation’s cultivable landmass, its consumption of agro-chemicals accounts for more than 17 per cent of the products used in India. There are 67 banned agro-chemicals that continue to be sold in India, resulting in high levels of lead, cadmium, fluoride, arsenic, mercury and uranium in the soil.

The use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in Punjab saw a spurt in the sixties after the Green Revolution, which made the country grain-surplus, but at environment’s cost. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal himself stated at the conference that moving away from traditional farming methods to meet the requirements of the Green Revolution had resulted in Punjab losing fresh water and groundwater. Chemicals have permeated through the soil into the groundwater while river and canal water is polluted by effluents.

Consequently, the morbidity profile of the state has changed over the past four decades, with illnesses like cancer and chronic disorders affecting the nervous, immune, cardiac and respiratory systems and hypertension and diabetes becoming increasingly common. A study by Baba Farid Centre for Special Children reveals that 87 per cent children below 13 in Faridkot area have excessive uranium and manganese traces in their bodies.

A study by the PGIMER, Chandigarh, reveals that the number of confirmed cancer cases in villages using high levels of pesticides is 125 per one lakh persons, whereas it is 72 per one lakh in places using less pesticides.

Rising toxicity leading to serious health problems, such as cancer

  • Punjab is among the highest users of chemical fertilisers/pesticides in the country
  • Its consumption is several times more than national average
  • The use of urea in the state is estimated at 400-600 kg per hectare and that of phosphate 100-200 kg whereas the national average is 88 kg and 39 kg, respectively
  • Though Punjab has 1.5% of the nation’s cultivable land, its agro-chemicals use accounts for more than 17%
  • Sixtyseven banned agro-chemicals continue to be sold in India, resulting in high levels of lead, cadmium, fluoride, arsenic, mercury and uranium in the soil

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