Chandigarh: The fact that Punjab has seen manifold increase in the number of cancer cases, particularly in the Malwa region, is an open secret but experts are worried that no serious effort has been made to get to its root cause.
The main reason for the serious situation is the lack of studies on the impact of indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers on the food chain in the state since it pioneered the green revolution.
The recent public uproar in the US against a pesticide containing glyphosate has now started debate among agricultural experts in Punjab on continuing its use. There are also concerns over the effectiveness of the state’s mechanism to check indiscriminate use of chemicals in agriculture.
Glyphosate’s use has evoked protests by environmentalists across the world due to fears that it causes cancer. Last year, the California state of the US added glyphosate to a list of chemicals known to cause cancer. Glyphosate is also listed by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer as a probable human carcinogen.
Experts in Punjab believe that instead of the Union government taking all the decisions, there is an urgent need to allow state governments decided which pesticides they should allow to be used and which ones to ban. So far, state governments have very limited power as they can only ban a pesticide for only up to 60 days.
Makhan Singh Bhullar, a weedicide expert from Punjab Agriculture University in Ludhiana, said that glyhposate is used in non- cropped areas like water channels as it is a total weed killer, it even kills broad based plants.
“However, there is no study to find whether there is any residue of it left in the food chain,” he said, drawing chief minister Amarinder Singh’s attention to sanction such a study.
According to food and environment expert Devinder Sharma, glyphosate has been banned recently by the Telangana government and Punjab should also do so.
“This will put some pressure on the Union government to ban it. There are powerful lobbies behind promotion of pesticides in our country. These are so strong that film star Amair Khan was served a legal notice after his TV show Satyamev Jayate’s episode on pesticides,” he said.
The Centre for Science and Environment, in a survey to investigate the effect of pesticides in the agricultural heartland of Punjab, found 15 different pesticides in the 20 blood samples tested from four villages in Punjab. It was found that pesticide residues of DDE and DDT in the Punjab samples were 35 times and 188 times higher than in samples collected by a social group in the US.