On NHRC intervention Punjab Government bans use of cancer causing pesticides in Malwa region
New Delhi, April 20th, 2012
Responding to National Human Rights Commission's directions, the Punjab Government has banned the manufacture, import and use of pesticides which are very injurious to health. It has also withdrawn registration of some such pesticides in addition to restricting use of some other dangerous pesticides. It has also made arrangements for educating farmers on judicious use of pesticides and their healthcare.
These actions, among others, have been taken by the Punjab Government in response to NHRC's suo motu cognizance of a media report, carried on the 16th August, 2011, alleging that the disease of cancer among farmers in the Malwa region of Punjab is caused by the excessive use of pesticides on the crops and that due to non-availability of the cheap treatment of cancer in the region, about 70-100 cancer patients were going daily by train to Bikaner from Bathinda for free treatment and cheap medicines in the Acharya Tulsi Regional Cancer Trust.
These patients were mostly small farmers from the southern districts of Punjab including Bathinda, Faridkot, Moga, Muktsar, Ferozepur, Sangrur and Mansa coming under Malwa region.
On the directions of the Commission two reports were received from the Government of Punjab on 20th September, 2011 and 27th February, 2012. The first report of the Director Health and Family Welfare of Punjab was not found specific by the Commission to the issues in the media report and it gave directions on 23rd January, 2012 for an overall comprehensive action including banning carcinogenic pesticides, control use of less hazardous pesticides, education of farmers for use of pesticides, regular health check ups of the of farmers in the area and conducting a survey in the area to assess the problem.
In response to this, the second report by the Principal Secretary, Govt. of Punjab, Department of Health and Family Welfare accepted that the consumption of pesticides was on the higher side in Malwa region on account of growing of cotton crop. However, during the last 4-5 years, the consumption has reduced as the farmers have switched over to BT cotton, which requires only 20% of the pesticides used for earlier cotton varieties. The farmers are being trained on judicious use of pesticides even as some dangerous pesticides have been banned or their use has been restricted. As for providing cheap treatment for cancer, the Punjab Government has taken the following steps:-
" Financial assistance under State Illness Fund through Punjab Nirogi Society is provided to cancer patients belonging to BPL families;
" A fund of Rs. 20 crores has been made available by the Government of Punjab under the Chief Minister's Relief Fund for treatment of cancer patients. An amount of upto Rs. 1.5 lakhs is made available for treatment to every cancer patient;
" School children suffering from cancer are provided free treatment by Health Department;
" .Brachytherapy machine for treatment of cancer patients has been installed at Government Medical College and Hospital, Patiala;
" Radiotherapy machine and cobalt unit have been started at Sri Guru Gobind Singh Medical College, Faridkot;
" Cobalt source fro the treatment of cancer patients has been installed at Sri Guru Ram Das Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, Amritsar;
" Onconet service has been started at Civil Hospital, Bathinda;
" Regional Cancer Centre, PGI is connected to all districts of Punjab via Tele-Medicine facility;
" Free travel facility in Punjab Roadways and PRTC Buses is provided for cancer patients for availing treatment;
" State Government has executed an agreement with Max Health Care to set up Super Specialty Hospital for cancer and Trauma Care in the premises of Civil Hospital, SAS Nagar (Mohali) and setting up of Super Specialty Cancer and Cardiac Hospital in the premises of Civil Hospital, Bathinda. These hospitals are fully functional.
The Commission has observed that the steps taken by the State Government give some ray of hope to the victims. If these steps are taken forward in the right earnest they are likely to bear fruits in the future.