The high incidence of cancer and other diseases in Punjab’s Malwa belt has been highlighted over the last decade. In July, union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh confirmed the presence of uranium and other heavy metals in the groundwater of the state, particularly in the Malwa region.
“The level of uranium in the ground water is 50 percent over the WHO norms. The source of this is not yet known. Punjab is the only state to have uranium in its water,” Mr. Ramesh said.
Of the 2,462 samples of water collected from tube wells across Punjab, 1,140 samples had tested positive for the presence of uranium and arsenic.
The effect of all this can be seen in the growing number of patients in the Malwa belt with cancer and other diseases and children being born with abnormalities. In fact, a train that connects Bathinda with Bikaner in neighbouring Rajasthan is known as the ‘Cancer Express’ as it ferries a large number of cancer patients from Punjab to Bikaner for treatment at a cancer hospital.
The union government, which has promised to give Punjab Rs.525 crore to make its water uranium free, has already sanctioned a water testing laboratory at Mohali, 10 km from here.
Environmentalists blame the rampant use of pesticides, fertiliser and other chemicals — as Punjab took the lead in the Green Revolution and became the country’s No. 1 state in food grain production — for the contaminated groundwater.
Some other environmentalists blame the pollution and waste from thermal plants and explosives used in past wars for the contamination of the water.
The Punjab government has sought technical help from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to tackle the growing problem of uranium in groundwater.
However, the latest press release on 06SEP12 from the Ministry of Water Resources merely reflects the answers from leading environmentalists listing leaching of natural deposits, the combustion of coal and other fuels and the use of phosphate based fertilizers that contain uranium as the culprit. Unfortunately, the Bhabha Atomic Research Center has yet to weigh in on the matter.