Chandigarh: In south-western Punjab, where farmers use fertilizers and pesticides in large quantities, drinking water that contains high levels of heavy metals and pesticides is wreaking health and environmental havoc, according to a new government-funded survey.
The survey’s findings conclude that impure drinking water is now one of the major causes of death in the region.
According to the survey, besides hepatitis and gastroenteritis, low-quality drinking water has also led to a rise in incidence of cancer, joint pain, skin disease, asthma, premature greying of hair and even mental retardation in parts of Punjab that were surveyed recently by a committee headed by J.S. Bajaj, vice-chairman of the Punjab State Planning Board.
The survey—of drinking water quality and rural water supply schemes—was conducted in 17 villages across four districts. It covered four blocks in Bathinda district, two in Muktsar and one each in Faridkot and Mansa. The report was submitted on 14 May.
An earlier study by the department of community medicine, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Chandigarh, found high levels of pesticide residue in food and water in several blocks, while a Centre for Science and Environment study reported pesticide residue in human blood samples collected across rural Punjab.
Of the total population of 13,393 in five villages of Bathinda’s Talwandi Sabo block, 463 people suffer from joint pains, 308 have skin diseases, 298 are afflicted with asthma and 54 are mentally retarded; premature greying of hair has been found in 38 cases, says the survey.
Out of 656 deaths reported in the past 10 years in Malkana, Giana, Sekhpura, Jajjal and Mahinangal villages, 91 were caused due to cancer. In the past one year, 10 more cases of cancer have been reported.
Mint couldn’t immediately find relevant data for non-surveyed districts of Punjab or compare the statistics to other parts of India to independently ascertain if the incidence cited by the survey is higher than normal or water-related.
Most people in the region consume untreated water from handpumps and canals, the survey says, adding that “all farmers use pesticides and insecticides on their crops”. These have the potential of seeping into the ground and entering groundwater sources.
In Lambi block of Muktsar district, the constituency of state chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, only four households used pond water for drinking. Here, too, 159 people complained of joint pains and 162 suffered from asthma—out of a total population of 9,959.
Out of 7,210 people in Jhanduke and Balton villages in Bathinda, 241 people suffer from joint pain and 150 from skin diseases. Some 79 have been diagnosed with asthma and there have been 74 cases of premature greying, says the survey. During the past one year, 17 deaths have occurred due to cancer alone in these two villages.