WITH the onset of spring, agricultural activities have started in Kashmir. As the weather has been dry and sunny for over a week now, we see that apple farmers have already busied themselves with spraying pesticides in their orchards. This is an annual activity. However, very little attention is paid to its impact on the environment. Are precautions taken to make sure the water bodies around apple orchards are not getting contaminated with these pesticides? These concerns haven’t been talked about enough.
Is the Public Health Engineering (PHE) Jal Shakti Department sensitive about this issue? The national flagship programme Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) which was launched by the Prime Minister Modi on 15th August 2019 aims at providing ‘Functional Household Tap Connections’ (FHTC) to every rural household in the country by 2024. The Jal Jeevan Mission is based on a community approach to water and is to include extensive information, education and communication (IEC) programmes as a key component of the mission. This programme is aimed at creating a people’s movement Jan Andolan for water by making sure people get access to safe drinking water. However, we’ve failed to ensure a supply of safe and clean drinking water on ground. Not only are water sources infected with solid and liquid waste but they are also heavily polluted by pesticides which run into our streams, small rivers and other water sources. Additionally, excessive riverbed mining (RBM) is also polluting waters making it muddy. This infected and unhygienic water is lifted and supplied to people in many areas especially to the Srinagar civil lines by the PHE Jal Shakti Department. The PHE department isn’t to be blamed entirely as our Government officers are also turning a blind eye towards pollution of water bodies with pesticides and riverbed mining.
Pesticides in Water
According to a research article Role of Pesticides in Water Pollution published by Manish Srivastava and others in the Journal of Agriculture Science and Food Research, in India 50% urban and 80% rural population get contaminated water. In many states, water is not safe at all for drinking purposes due to its high concentration of pesticides, metals, bacteria and chemicals. Similarly, in Kashmir as well, the presence of pesticides in drinking water is a matter of very serious concern. Yet, neither the Pollution Control Committee nor the PHE Jal Shakti is taking this as seriously as it needs to be taken.
Pesticide spraying season has begun in Kashmir. Between March to May, Kashmir gets some amount of rainfall as well and these pesticides get washed away into the natural water channels (Khuls) which then enter into streams and rivers. Most of our water supply plants get water from these streams and rivers and the water is then supplied to people without proper treatment.
The pesticide concentration in drinking water cannot be controlled by obsolete processes like sedimentation or use of bleaching powder which are normally done by PHE Jal Shakti department to kill the bacteria in water.
With the increased use of chemical sprays, fertilizers, its impact is seen directly on human lives and aquatic life as well.
PCC has to play its role
The J&K Pollution Control Committee (J&K PCC) has an important role to play in checking water pollution especially contamination of drinking water sources with pesticides. PCC has been given a mandate to check water pollution under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. For the last two decades water has been contaminated with pesticides but not one case stands registered by PCC or other government agencies against this.
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.
Impact on Human Health
It is an established fact that pesticides that contaminate drinking water sources can bioaccumulate in the human body over time. Exposure effects can range from mild skin irritation to birth defects, tumors, genetic changes, blood and nerve disorders, endocrine disruption. Developmental effects have been associated with pesticides. In addition to it cancer, neurotoxicity, kidney and liver damage has been established. Exposure to pesticides can also alter an organism’s behaviour, impacting its ability to survive.
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.
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.
The aim of Jal Jeevan Mission -JJM is not merely ensuring tap water or laying of water pipelines. Its main focus has to be on supplying safe drinking water to people. The NGT has already penalised the J & K Government for supplying contaminated drinking water from Doodh Ganga. Rs 35 Crores penalty was imposed on the Govt out of which Rs 3 Crores have already been deposited in Deputy Commissioner Budgam’s account by Srinagar Municipal Corporation , District Mineral Officer Geology & Mining Department and Municipal Committees Chadoora and Budgam. The Government had given assurances to NGT that water quality will be made better by setting up Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) on Doodh Ganga but the work is yet to be taken up by the Housing & Urban Development Department.
Special thrust must be given to make sure water isn’t contaminated with liquid waste, untreated sewage, pesticides and excessive riverbed mining. There has to be proper coordination between Government departments like Horticulture, Agriculture,PHE Jal Shakti,Irrigation,Geology & Mining,Fisheries and Pollution Control Committee. The Deputy Commissioners while taking a review meeting on JJM implementation must also make sure whether the water that is being supplied to people is free from pesticides and other impurities.
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