•  Spread the word
 •  Contact the author Cancer crisis, Punjab officials fiddling
Umendra Dutt

23 September 2005

A high powered committee constituted by Punjab Government on the issue of pesticides and health was scheduled to meet on 19 September at Chandigarh. The committee was to meet to take a decision regarding the high incidence of cancer and its relation with pesticides and traces of pesticides in found in human blood in Punjab. The Chief Minister, Capt. Amarinder Singh, is the chairman of this committee. The meeting was postponed to 28 September.

The committee came into being in June this year after New Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment brought out its report on abnormally high traces of pesticides in blood samples taken from villages of Talwandi Sabo block of Bathinda district. Also, an earlier study conducted by the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, and sponsored by the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) showed that the same villages were recording abnormally high numbers of cancer patients. The PPCB-PGIMER study concluded that pesticides used and detected in the Malwa region could be one of the main reasons for the high incidence of cancer there. The study itself was initiated on the personal interest of the Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, about two years back.

Apart from the state's Health Minister and Health Secretary, other members of the committee include Dr S S Johl, Vice Chairman, Punjab State Planning Board, Dr G S Kalkat, Chairman Punjab State Farmers Commission, Dr T P Rajinderan, Assistant Director General of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR).

The postponement of the 19 September meeting is the continuation of a series. The committee has had no meeting since its inception. It's notification was issued on June 27 and the first meeting was fixed for 22 July, but this was then postponed to August. Again the meeting was postponed to 19 September, then again to the 20th, and now for the 28th. Clearly the committee does not have time to look into crisis of environmental health in Punjab.

Underlying this is a deeper cause of concern. The Health and Family Welfare Department and some experts from Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) have taken virtually a pro-pesticides stance. Soon after the CSE's results were released, a new study emerged in July from the health department which disputed the findings of the CSE study. On 25 July 2005, in a meeting of the expert group held at PGIMER, Chandigarh, the department declared that no pesticides were found in blood samples of their own survey. The department claimed it had procured 235 blood samples and tested for at least four groups of pesticides. It also appears that health department tried to create confusion about the PPCB-PGIMER study by saying that its sample size is not adequate, when the latter study had surveyed a population of 183,243.

Ironically, the same department was part of whole process during the original PPCB-PGIMER study. This study was a scientifically planned (and executed) cancer-prevalence epidemiological study in selected high pesticide-exposure geographic areas of Punjab. It's results are a clear indicator of the grave situation Punjab has fallen into. The study was reviewed periodically by a expert group which include eminent scientists. It was accepted by this group before being made public. Even a representative of the heath department had signed the report. The findings became a consensus document binding on all, including state's health department.

But the health department took a u-turn in July. The department has gone to the extent of questioning the findings of Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, Lucknow (a CSIR institute, which is the nodal centre for the UNEP sponsored Regionally-Based Assessment of Persistent Toxic Substances and also the nodal centre for the National Implementation Plan for the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants) and the Quality Control Laboratory for Processed Food, Department of Post Harvest Technology, PAU, which had done laboratory tests on behalf of PGIMER.

It is also important to note that within five days of the CSE report, the officials of the state government's Patiala laboratory had gone to the press claiming "No pesticides in human blood, urine and vegetables". The CSE study was released on 7 June 2005. By 12 June, the Chief Chemical Examiner had made his counter claim that was reported in the print media on 13 June. On the very same day the State Chemical Examiner released press statement from Chandigarh, the chairman of Agro-Chemical Promotion Group Mr Salil Singhal had also addressed a press conference refuting the CSE study's findings.

Many questions raised remain unanswered about the Patiala laboratory's counter study. First, it was done very secretively. According to the department, they study had covered four districts - Mansa, Bathinda, Faridkot and Muktsar comprising of nearly 1000 habitats and villages beside towns in just three days! It is not clear what methodology was adopted for this survey. The study methodology and results were not revealed even in the expert group meeting held at PGIMER in Chandigarh on 25 July.

Other questions: From where did they collect their samples? Did they take samples from farmers, their families and farm workers or others who had long term occupational exposure? What tests were carried out and what was the protocol followed? What instruments and equipments were used? Do they have an accredited lab for pesticide residual analysis? From available information, it is doubtful whether the Patiala laboratory is capable of undertaking this exercise. Every epidemiological study has a requisite protocol to be followed and a scientific methodology to be adopted. What systems were followed in the study? What was the study design? What was the implementation mechanism? What was the time frame? Who was the Principal Investigator?

To these and other questions, the Director of Health & Family Welfare has not given an answer. It is clear that there were no proper surveys undertaken. In the meantime, if no further postponements happen, the high powered committee chaired by the Chief Minister is scheduled to meet 28 September.

Umendra Dutt
23 Sep 2005

Umendra Dutt is the Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission. KVM is at Street-5, Hardayal Nagar, JAITU-151202 District Faridkot, Punjab. Tel:+91-01635 -503415.

Citizen Direct is India Together's channel for publishing reports from citizens who have detailed information about specific civil society concerns and matters, by virtue of their participation, association, or independent observation. These reports are therefore as witnessed and understood by the authors themselves; India Together accepts no liability or responsibility for them.   More

 •  Spread the word
 •  Contact the author

Post your comment below, or View Existing Comments (0)

Post a comment
Note: Your post will appear within 24 hours unless found inappropriate (spam, netabuse).
See policy

Remember personal info?

For verification, please enter the security code you see below

Note: Your post will appear within 24 hours unless found inappropriate (spam, netabuse). See policy


Post your comment