punjab has finally made cancer-registry compulsory in the state. Despite numerous scientific reports revealing the public health crisis in the state, the government had obstinately resisted any redress mechanism. The recent decision comes in the wake of two new scientific reports. One shows that pesticides are damaging genes of farmers who spray them, often leading to mutations and cancers. The other study finds the water that most people in the state drink is laced with poisons and that areas where maximum pesticides are used are reporting alarming rise in cancer cases (See page 9). The state's knee-jerk reaction is an admission of the fact that pesticides and chemicals are poisoning people in the state. But is this enough? Clearly not.
The extent of human and environmental contamination in Punjab is huge. Food, soil, water, air, human bodies, almost everything is stained with a cocktail of dangerous chemicals. Decontamination will not be easy. And even tougher will be dealing with the health crisis that plagues the state. Trains full of cancer patients going for treatment have become routine. The cotton-growing areas known as the Malwa-region, where maximum pesticides are sprayed, are the worst hit. Numerous studies in the past have confirmed the abnormally high incidence of cancer and other debilitating illnesses in this region. Despite this evidence, not much has been done to alleviate the suffering.
India has no regular bio-monitoring programme. Studies are sporadic and more for research purpose, not as a part of the regulatory mechanism. We continue to register and use chemicals without adequately regulating them. Chemicals which are pushed by the industry as being "safe" are turning out to be dangerous. Organophosphate pesticides were peddled by the industry as being "non-persistent" and safe. The recent research has indicted organophosphate pesticide for damaging the dna of farmers. Something is seriously wrong with our regulations.
The pesticide industry continues to deny that its products cause havoc and refuses to accept liability. But this time they do not have the usual scapegoats. In the past, industry has countered such research by blaming it on smoking, drinking or something else. Anything but pesticides. But the new report clearly says that factors such as smoking, drinking and age have no co-relation with the extent of dna damage of farmers. Industry must have already begun to look for a new excuse. Let us see what they blame it on now.
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