Pesticides in our Drinking Water? 

THERE is no dearth of water resources in Jammu & Kashmir. We have a good amount of water available for water drinking as well as irrigating our farmlands. Kashmir valley especially has huge glaciers, lakes, rivers , springs and streams. In spite of such abundant water resources, the majority of people living in towns, villages and cities of J&K are supplied with unsafe drinking water. The raw water supplied to drinking water supply plants is contaminated, not only by solid or liquid waste or human and animal faecal matter, but various types of pesticides and fungicides that are sprayed in apple and vegetable farms, golf courses, gardens and parks also contaminate our drinking water sources.

As already discussed in my weekly video series Inkishaf on Kashmir, the Doodh Ganga river which is the main source of drinking water in Srinagar uptown is no longer milky. This small river, which originates from the Pir Panjal glaciers of the inner Himalayan region, is pristine and clear when it leaves the glacier. But after travelling just 30 km downstream, it gets contaminated not only with liquid waste but with pesticides as well which gets drained into it from nearby apple orchards.

Solid and liquid waste was already a threat to Doodh Ganga. The water supplied from the Doodh Ganga water filtration plant at Kralpora is unfit for drinking, especially in summer months, when the pesticides sprayed in orchards are washed into it by frequent rains.

The polluted water from Doodh Ganga is lifted at Kralpora filtration plant and then supplied to more than half a million population living in Srinagar uptown after sedimentation and chlorination. Will this be enough to make this water fit for drinking, which not only contains liquid waste but poisonous pesticides too? The Pollution Control Committee hasn’t even looked into this aspect.

South Kashmir

Tonnes of municipal solid waste are dumped on the Vishaw river banks in Kulgam, a South Kashmir district headquarter, on a daily basis by none other than the municipal committee. This is an open violation of the Municipal Solid Waste Rules of 2016 by a municipal institution itself, which is supposed to enforce them.

In addition to solid waste and sewage from Kulgam town, pesticides also contaminate this river, which is a drinking water source for thousands of families in Kulgam and Anantnag districts in South Kashmir.

From spring (March onwards), large amounts of pesticides are sprayed on apple trees in Kulgam district. These get washed into small rivulets and streams and end up in Vishaw river. If there is rainfall after the pesticide spray, the drinking water sources get more contaminated.

The Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department is not only supplying unhygienic and untreated drinking water to people of Kulgam but also to neighbouring Anantnag and Shopian districts. Experts from the horticulture and agriculture departments have never created any awareness among farmers on management and protection of water bodies from pesticide sprays. The government should create a joint task force of agencies such as the PHE and the horticulture and agriculture departments to impress upon farmers the need to ensure minimum damage to water bodies while spraying chemicals. It would be better for farmers to shift to organic farming.

Water from Dal Lake

The most alarming situation is the use of pesticides in floating vegetable gardens of Dal Lake and surrounding apple orchards. Pesticides are also used in the famous Mughal and tulip gardens and golf courses in the city which then enter Dal Lake.

Dal Lake gets regularly contaminated with pesticides from March to August. This is not only harmful for humans but for aquatic life especially fish which is consumed in large quantities by Kashmiris.

Ironically, water from the Dal Lake is lifted by the PHE Department around Pokhiribal locality and supplied to around two lakh people in several areas of Srinagar’s old city.

The Pesticide concentration in drinking water cannot be controlled by obsolete processes like sedimentation or use of bleaching powder, which is normally done by PHE Jal Shakti department to kill the bacteria in water. In fact, bleaching powder itself is harmful if used directly in water, as is done in many places of Kashmir. In many water supply plants chlorine gas is also used to disinfect water , but experts say this is a dangerous method to clean the drinking water.

A report published in the International Journal of Pharma Sciences and Research (Dr Muddasir Bandy and others, December 2012) on contamination of freshwater fish, “Schizothorax Niger”, (Algad Snow trout) with chlorpyrifos from “Dal Lake” basins indicates that chlorpyrifos, an organo-phosphate pesticide, was present in “Schizothorax Niger”.

Role of Pollution Control Committee

The J&K Pollution Control Committee (J&K PCC), has a great role to play in looking into the contamination of drinking water by pesticides. JK PCC can take action against erring farmers who are found violating the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 by draining out chemical fertilisers into drinking water sources.

The water act was introduced to prevent and control water pollution and maintain or restore the wholesomeness of water. It also provides for the establishment of boards for the control of water pollution. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) or Pollution Control Committees (PCCs) in Union Territories are guardians of the water act.

The erstwhile J&K State Pollution Control Board (JK SPCB) hasn’t conducted any study to ascertain the impact of pesticides effluents on drinking water sources or other water bodies. The central pollution control board CPCB needs to take notice of it. It also needs to explore whether drainage of pesticides into rivers and lakes of Kashmir is a violation of the Hazardous Waste Management Rules 2016, with all its four amendments from 2016 to 2019.

Right to Healthy Environment

Article 21 of the constitution ensures citizens of India the right to a healthy environment. The provision of the Right to Healthy Environment was not included when the Constitution was drafted and approved by the Constituent Assembly. The topics in the state list on which the state can enact legislation are health, hygiene, agriculture, soil, water, etc. The Union List includes issues like nuclear energy, oil fields and resources, interstate rivers, etc., for which only Parliament has the power to make laws.

The Preamble to the Constitution makes it clear that socio-economic justice is the basis of our Constitution. The apex court held that the right to life under Article 21 is a fundamental right and includes the rights to free water and free air from pollution for the full enjoyment of life in the case of Subhash Kumar v/s  State of Bihar.

Brain Cancer & pesticides

A study by Prof Abdul Rashid Bhat, a neurosurgeon, and others from the Sher e Kashmir  Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), Srinagar, linked pesticides to brain cancer. The report published in the Indian Journal of Medical and Paediatric Oncology in October 2010 revealed that 389 out of 432 cases of primary malignant brain tumours that were examined by SKIMS during a scientific study in 2010 (excluding metastatic lesions), were those of orchard farm workers.

While 61% of farmers/farm workers were affected after getting directly exposed to various pesticides in apple farms, almost 39 % were indirectly exposed, which includes intake of contaminated drinking water. Most of the affected districts, as per the study, were Anantnag, Baramulla, Budgam and Shopian.

Inputs from health and other experts and studies make it clear that drinking water is not safe in J&K. Governments and scientific institutions need to do many studies on contamination of drinking water sources by pesticides.

Effect on Sperm Count

High pesticide residues in some fruits and vegetables can reduce the quality of men’s semen by up to half, according to a 2015 study done in the United States. The five-year study, the first of its type, has significant implications for public health, according to the medical journal Human Reproduction, which says attention is more often focused on women’s difficulties in giving birth.

Fruit and vegetables eaten by the men who took part in the Harvard University study were rated as being high, moderate or low for residues, based on US department of agriculture figures. Among those in the “high” category were peppers, spinach, strawberries, apples and pears, while those rated low included peas, beans, grapefruit and onions. The tests took account of whether they were peeled and washed.

The study revealed that men who ate the most “pesticide-heavy” fruit and vegetables had an average total sperm count of 86 million sperm per ejaculate compared to men who ate the least-affected, who produced 171 million sperm per ejaculate. Pertinently Human Reproduction is one of the top three journals in the world in the field of reproductive biology, obstetrics and gynaecology.

Conclusion

The PHE Jal Shakti Department is unaware of this alarming situation. They have techniques to kill bacteria in water but what about the treatment of water that contains pesticides? The Department needs to liaison with farmers through horticulture and agriculture departments and seek guidance from the Pollution Control Committee as well. Capacity building programmes should be held for farmers to ensure pesticides used in farms don’t contaminate nearby drinking water sources. We need legislation on this issue.


  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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