Healthcare in Malwa in shambles

Punjab's Malwa region, south of the Sutlej river, grabbed national attention a couple of years ago when its steeply rising cancer graph came to light. Studies had revealed the link between heavy pesticide use and the disease. Little has changed since then. Medical facilities remain dismal and farmers are still ignorant about the dangers of pesticide overuse.

"The Malwa region is a cotton belt and pesticide use is the highest here. The farmers here have been using pesticides for decades and the fallout is becoming evident in the rising number of cancer cases,' explains G P I Singh, head of the department, Community Medicine, Dayanand Medical College, Ludhiana. Malwa consumes 75 per cent of the pesticides used in Punjab, as per the 2007 State of Environment Report (soer) prepared by the Punjab State Council for Science and Technology and released on August 28. The state, in turn, uses 17 per cent of the total pesticides applied in India (see box: Toxic treatment). Although pesticide use in Punjab came down from 6,900 tonnes in 2003-04 to 6,000 tonnes in 2005-06, officials say it is likely to increase due to a mealy bug attack this year. "While last year we had to spray only five times, this year we have already sprayed 16 times,' says a farmer in Bathinda.

Ferozepur, Faridkot, Muktsar, Bathinda, Mansa and Sangrur, six of the nine districts in Malwa, are the worst affected. Bathinda, with a population of 1.2 million, heads the list with 711 cancer cases, according to the latest statistics