Archive for January, 2008

Go slow on genetically modified crops: Expert

‘Kidney and liver problems have surfaced in rats fed with GM corn’

Visakhapatnam, Jan. 4 Genetically modified crops may have certain adverse impacts, as experiments in France have proved of late, and, therefore, the Indian Government will be well-advised to go slow in the matter, says Mr Krishna Dronamraju, Head of the Foundation for Genetic Research, Houston.

Mr Krishna, who hails from Pithapuram in East Godavari district, is here to participate in the Indian Science Congress. He studied B.Sc (biology) in the Maharajah College in Vizianagaram and subsequently obtained the post-graduate degree in plant genetics from Agra University. He received Ph.D from the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, where he worked with the eminent scientist, Mr J.B.S Haldane.

He has been conducting research in bio-technology in the US since 1963. He was once nominated for Nobel Prize in bio-technology.

In an interview here, he said that recent experiments had shown that some of the GM were highly toxic. “Kidney and liver problems have surfaced in rats fed with GM corn. Therefore, it is better if the Indian Government goes slow on GM crops. It is better if GM crops are confined to small stretches of land and a lot of research is necessary to find out their toxicity. Bio-tech companies should invest more on fundamental research,” he said.

Higher yields should not be the sole criterion for preferring GM crops, he observed. He felt that the Indian companies should fund foundations, as in the US, for conducting research. “The Government alone cannot do it. The industry should also take the responsibility on its shoulders,” he opined.

Courtesy: The Hindu Businessline

Buddha for Red Book rewrite to fight anti-industry lobby

Kolkata, January 3: Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has sought a change in CPI(M)’s tactical line to combat anti-industry lobby within the party and Left circles as well.

In the run up to the party’s state conference and party congress beginning January 13, Bhattacharjee on Thursday called for changes in Party Programme & Tactics, the Red Book for every CPI(M) cardholder. “In our party programe, land and agricultural questions have been addressed properly, earlier. But, in the changed context, a right tactical line should be adopted,” said Bhattacharjee. The changed context, he said, was the imperative need to industrialise the state to ease the burden on agriculture.

“There is no alternative to industrialisation without capitalism, even though we know that socialism is the best structure,” he said on the occasion of the 42nd anniversary of Ganashakti, the party organ.

“The Government does not have the capital (to invest)…. the reality has compelled me to invite private capital and there is no alternative to this,” said Bhattacharjee, who has found himself under siege in his second term after his grand plans to invite big industry and set up SEZs called for the acquisition of farmland.

Party sources said Bhattacharjee’s comments should be read to mean that the party had to make some changes in its basic thinking to allow for the acquisition of farmland and induction of private capital. The Government has made it clear on earlier occasions that the state has very little barren land, amounting to just one per cent of available land area, and large projects cannot do without some farmland.

“The state conference and the party Congress will debate these issues, since there are two lines of thought,” a senior party leader said. “One school—the old leaders based on land movement—are against farmland acquisition and the entry of private capital. The other is the changing face led by Bhattacharjee, which appreciates reality.”

The Chief Minister said: “Of the total available land, 23 per cent is occupied by industry and urban areas. Those who oppose our programme want us to stay within this. But we need at least another two or three per cent.”

A wiser Bhattacharjee also called for a proper rehabilitation policy, proper valuation and identification of land.

Courtesy: IndianExpress.com – 04-01-08

POISON EARTH

Dear friends,

I know it is a great new year. But I thought you should read this news, about the State of Affairs of our Food, Environment and Blood. Punjab, the land that showed the way forward in Grain production in India through the Green Revolution is today a state possibly irreparably damaged. The worst that many of us feared and have been fighting against has come true – Human DNA has been found to be mutated and worst every possible source of life contaminated.

And our regions may not be too far away.

This needs a generations concerted effort to correct and allow life to continue…

love and regards


For Thanal

Sridhar

Poison Earth
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Courtesy an overzealous Green Revolution, Punjab has poison in its water and a cancer epidemic on its hands
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CHANDER SUTA DOGRA
The Curse Is Spreading

* The Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh has conducted a study over two years in five villages along Punjab’s major rivulets in Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Amritsar districts
* 88 per cent ground water samples showed alarming levels of mercury, over 50 per cent samples of ground and tap water contaminated by arsenic
* Lady’s fingers, carrots, gourds, cauliflower and chillies found to have toxic levels of lead, cadmium, mercury; cadmium, arsenic, mercury are known carcinogens; mercury also affects the nervous system
* Pesticides beyond permissible limit found in vegetables, fodder, human and bovine milk, as well as blood samples
* 65 per cent blood samples showed DNA mutation; there has been a sharp increase in cancer, neurological disorders, liver and kidney diseases, congenital defects, miscarriages
* This health crisis has been caused by the overuse of pesticides and the dumping of industrial effluents, which have made soil and water toxic

Though it constitutes 2.5% of the country’s area, Punjab accounts for 18% of pesticide used in the country
***
Baljeet Kaur of Giana village in Punjab’s cotton belt has been battling cancer for the last 10 years. First it was her husband who died of colon cancer, now she has cancer of the oesophagus. Her neighbour Mukhtiar Kaur is being treated for breast cancer. The family had a hand pump at home which provided them water for their daily needs but abandoned it after health officials told them its water was toxic. Now they get raw canal water for drinking and cooking. “Who knows if it is the water which has brought this disease on me?” she says. “All I know is that scores of people in our village are dying of cancer.” In neighbouring Jajjal, the word cancer only evokes deja vu. Karnail Singh and his wife Balbir Kaur both have cancer, live in adjoining houses, each with one of their sons. “This village is cursed,” says their brother Jarnail Singh.
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On death row: Jajjal’s Karnail Singh and his wife both have cancer, live in adjoining houses, each with a son
In Ghaunzpur in Ludhiana district, a good 200 km away, Manjit and Gurjit Singh lost both their parents to hepatitis; an uncle is afflicted with the same. The water from the hand pump in the courtyard turns foamy when heated, so they have dug a submersible pump which pumps out water from 300 ft below. Other households in the village cannot afford to do so.

For Punjab’s prosperous farming households and lush green fields, the famed Green Revolution is beginning to turn bilious from within. Its gushing tubewells, the cattle heavy with milk, the trolleys laden with vegetables destined for urban markets—all are likely to be contaminated with toxins. The state is sitting on an environmental crisis and few of have any idea of how to tackle it.

Some two years ago, when reports of increased cancer deaths first started coming in from the state’s cotton belt, the Chandigarh-based Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) decided to investigate. A preliminary study it conducted found a much higher prevalence of cancer in the Talwandi Sabo block and the presence of heavy metals and pesticides in drinking water in the area. It recommended a comprehensive study of the status of environmental health in Punjab’s other cotton-growing areas, the setting up of a cancer registry in the state, and regular monitoring of the drinking water. Of course, intense pressure from the pesticides lobby ensured none of this came to pass and the report was ignored.

This month, the PGIMER’s department of community medicine has submitted a comprehensive epidemiological study (see box) in areas along the state’s five major rivulets to the State Pollution Control Board. The results are so shocking that the board has put it under wraps and is having second thoughts about releasing it. Says Dr J.S. Thakur, an assistant professor at PGIMER, who conducted the study, “Our two studies show that all of Punjab is toxic and people do not have safe water to drink. Both agricultural and industrial malpractices are to be blamed for this.”

The worst affected is the southeastern Malwa region, better known these days as the ‘cancer belt’. To counter increasingly resistant pests, farmers here spray their fields with pesticide doses far above those recommended—often cocktailing two or more chemicals. As the former sarpanch of Jajjal, Najar Singh, told Outlook, “Although the recommended dose is about five sprays per season, we sometimes spray our fields 25 to 30 times. Almost every third day!” Punjab, which makes up for just 2.5 per cent of the country’s area, accounts for 18 per cent of the pesticides used in the country.
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The state’s problem is their unregulated use, say experts, with most farmers unaware of how to use or dispose of the empty pesticide cans. So, in the last four decades pesticides have seeped into the underground water aquifers, as also in the state’s water bodies. And in the last 10 years, more and more well- off households along the drains have begun setting up submersible pumps to get water from deep aquifers, as water from taps and handpumps is unfit for human use.

Punjab’s finance minister Manpreet Badal is a legislator from Muktsar district’s Gidderbaha, located in the cancer belt. “In the 50 villages in my constituency,” he says, “there’d be a thousand-odd cancer cases. I’ve lost count of the funerals of cancer victims I’ve attended in my area since the beginning of this year. It is an epidemic here.” A train leaving from Bhatinda to Bikaner has been dubbed ‘cancer express’ as most patients from here go to Bikaner’s cancer hospital for treatment. Even a child in these parts knows what chemotherapy is about. “Our neighbour used to take hot injections before she died last year,” says little Kiranjot at Chandbaja village in Faridkot district. “Many others in our village have taken them.”

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Giana’s Baljeet Kaur has cancer of the oesophagus
Dr G.P.I. Singh, who heads the department of community medicine in Ludhiana’s Dayanand Medical College, has recently begun studying, along with other private doctors across the state and NGO Kheti Virasat Mission (KVM), the impact of heavy metals and pesticides on reproductive health in Punjab. “One of the things worrying us,” he says, “is that the skewed sex ratio in both Punjab and Haryana could also be due to chemical exposure, as the female foetus is more vulnerable. We notice an increase in spontaneous abortions, infertility, distorted menarche and foetuses with neural tube defects.” There is also a high incidence of grey hair among children and young adults in this area. Ask for one, and most villages throw up several.

Not just pesticides, but unchecked effluent flow from industries into the rivers and drains too has contaminated underground water in Punjab. At Ghaunzpur, for instance, five paper mills dump their entire effluent unchecked into the Buddha Nullah. However, the state pollution board which is supposed to check industries such as these from polluting water bodies couldn’t be bothered. This is evident from the response of the board’s chairman, Yogesh Goel, when queried about the PGIMER report.”I’m busy right now. You can ask the secretary of the board about it,” he told Outlook. Quite predictably, the secretary too made himself unavailable. KVM director Umendra Dutt, who has been most active in raising the issue of cancer deaths in Punjab, feels that agricultural scientists in cahoots with pesticide manufacturing mncs have led to this health crisis. “All these years agricultural scientists have been advocating heavy doses of pesticides without informing farmers of the damage improper usage causes,” he says.

Meanwhile, though officials are aware of the problem, the state is yet to evolve a concrete water policy to address the problem. Says J.R. Kundal, Punjab’s secretary for water supply and sanitation, “Ideally, there should be an umbrella task force to deal with the problem in its entirety,” he says. “Presently, different agencies are conducting overlapping studies which will take us nowhere. I am heading a task force to study arsenic in water, while the state planning board is looking into drinking water and allied issues. Although 90 per cent of the underground water is used for irrigation and just 10 per cent for drinking water, we realise that this 10 per cent is crucial for the health of our people.”

With the government unsure of what to do, Manpreet Badal has installed four distribution points supplying Reverse Osmosis water in his constituency. “Till a statewide water supply scheme comes up,” says he, “I’ve taken this interim measure.” His people are lucky. Others in the state are condemned to drinking polluted water and suffer from deadly diseases, reaping the poisoned fruit of a Green Revolution gone unchecked.

A Topic for Discussion

Our value system and the future of India

What is needed is society’s commitment to all spheres of creative activity so that a balanced future for the country is assured.

IN THE last few years, I have noticed a tendency in the media, in the Government, and in society to give undue importance and much publicity to commercial successes, foreign investment, sensex, profits in the IT sector, new billionaires, and such matters, like nowhere else in the world. Great recognition is given to salaries being offered to IIM graduates. There are frequent competitions in the media to pick the most popular personality in the country or in any given city. The choices given are so skewed, that only sports personalities, cine stars, and business leaders hit the spotlight. Nowhere in the world do sportsmen earn as much as in India through sponsorship. The heroes of today therefore appear to be those who have made big money or have been successful in commercial ventures. Nobody can be jealous or critical of these things, but it is a matter of concern that repeated recognitions of this sort have affected our value system seriously and changed it into one that is mercenary and commercial. This situation does not augur well for the future of the country.

With all the difficulties that we have had in the last few decades, India has continued to progress as one country, by and large because of our Indianness. Indianness involves aspects other than money and commercial successes. Furthermore, if we want India of the future to be a country that is advanced in all spheres, we have to take greater pride in intellectual and creative accomplishments. It is therefore important that our leaders, politicians, intellectuals, teachers, and others should talk about these matters in public and highlight our innovations in science, arts and literature, theatre, and other aspects related to human creativity.

One is not asking for monetary support here, but moral support, and a commitment of society to all spheres of creative activity so that a balanced future for the country is assured. As a country with great traditions as well as cultural and philosophical content, we cannot forget this aspect. When we see what has happened in the last few years to cities such as Bangalore, my worries become real. Bangalore is slowly losing its soul. We see large numbers of young people busily moving around, making money from BPO, IT, and other service sectors, but there is hardly any concern about other matters. There is still a chance for us to develop a country of a different kind.

I am, by no means, downgrading or undermining the importance of economic development and industrial growth, but if our primary concern is only FDI, commercial benefits, and the number of millionaires in the country, it will distort our development as a society and the values of young people. Young people should be encouraged to take up studies of their liking, get involved in creative endeavours in whatever sphere they like most, since we do need extraordinary people in all spheres, for a great India of the future. It is not enough if we routinely create professionals and managers.

It would be good to see a great scientist talking to Parliament once a year; a literary personality or a theatre personality should do the same. It would be nice to hear the Prime Minister and other important persons talking about our efforts and accomplishments in various creative directions and about the vision of a great India, in speeches on Independence Day and other occasions. It is not enough if we say that India will be an international centre for producing machines and materials or for a specific service sector. It is not enough if we take pride in the export of certain goods from India. In these days of economic boom, we should think equally about export of ideas and philosophical thoughts from India, if we have to be a major global player in a future knowledge-powered world.

Let us not forget that the countries in past history that we admire most are not necessarily the economically prosperous ones, but those that made major contributions to our cultural heritage. Our aim should be to make India a country that is recognised throughout the world and throughout history as a country that has significantly advanced the progress of science, art, and literature.

Our rulers and planners should therefore come out with an enlightened policy that provides the environment necessary for scientific discoveries and creative successes. While government funds generally imply greater control and less freedom, we need to create a general atmosphere where there is the realisation that good accounting, while necessary, does not lead to good science, art or poetry.

(The writer is National Research Professor & Linus Pauling Research Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bangalore. E-mail: cnrrao@jncasr.ac.in.)

Courtesy of news: The Hindu Nov 27, 2006