NHRC notices to the Government of Punjab and the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare over reported high incidents of serious diseases in the Malwa region due to excessive use of pesticides and insecticides (31.01.2018)


New Delhi, 31st January, 2018
The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC has taken suo motu cognizance of a media report about how excessive use of pesticides and insecticides have left residue of heavy metals in soil and ground water causing various serious diseases to many people in the Malwa region of Punjab. The newspaper has quoted a study conducted by the Baba Farid Centre for Special Children in this regard, as well as stories of some affected people from different villages in the region.

The Commission has issued notices to the Chief Secretary Govt. of Punjab and the Secretary of Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for a detailed report within six weeks. They have been asked to inform about the steps taken, after the year 2012, when the Commission had disposed the matter on the assurance given by the State Government for an affirmative and prompt action to deal with the menace.

The Commission has observed that it seems that even after lapse of a period of more than 7 years, the things have not moved and the people residing in the Malwa region are still suffering from various diseases including cancer, liver failure, renal failure and birth defects etc. The negligence by the state authorities has caused grave violation of human rights of these people. Due to these diseases, poor victims are not able to lead a normal life with dignity. The insensitive approach of the administration is apparent. The state cannot leave its citizens, affected by various diseases due to soil and drinking water poisoning, to live in undignified and traumatized conditions.

According to the media report, carried on the 28th January, 2018, it is mentioned that heavy metals are reaching the environment in dangerous amounts from reckless human activities due to their use in products like pesticides, herbicides, medicines, paints and cosmetics.

It is further stated that the chemical farming plays havoc with the environment and it is responsible for the rising levels of heavy metals in more than one way. A study, reportedly conducted by the Baba Farid Centre for Special Children, an NGO suggests that heavy metals may be responsible for a steady decline in sperm count, disturbed ovulation cycles, increasing menstrual disorders, sterility, spontaneous abortions, premature births and birth defects. The news report has disclosed that to assess the damage of toxic metals, the centre had sent urine samples of 200 autistic children to a German lab and the results indicated extremely high levels of Lead and Nickel.
It is further stated that the State of Punjab, especially the Malwa region is reeling under the 'cocktail effect' of heavy metals. The Green Revolution of the 60s' and 70s' resulted in dumping of dangerous chemicals such as endosulfan and these pesticides are still in use in Punjab, long after they were banned. Dr. JS Thakur, Professor, School of Public Health, PGI who is reviewing the studies on the presence of heavy metals in Punjab has stated that the levels of arsenium, fluoride, inorganic pollutants, pesticides and other heavy metals are beyond permissible limits in the water due to which people residing in the area are suffering from various diseases including Cancer which is a multi-factorial disease.

Earlier, in the year 2011 also, the Commission had taken suo-motu cognizance of a media report raising similar issues alleging that the disease of cancer among farmers of the Malwa region of Punjab is caused due to excessive use of pesticides on the crops and that due to non-availability of the cheap treatment of cancer, about 70-100 cancer patients travel to Bikaner in Rajasthan for free treatment and cheap medicine at the Acharya Tulsi Regional Cancer Trust. The Commission had closed the case file no. 705/19/2/2011 after prompt and affirmative action by the State Government.

The Government of Punjab, in its response to the Commission's notice, at that time had said that the farmers were being trained on judicious use of pesticides even as some dangerous pesticides had been banned or their use was restricted.

As for providing cheap treatment for cancer, the Punjab Government had 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 up to 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 from 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 had observed that the steps taken by the State Government gave 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.