The Bitter Harvest of Green Revolution
India is rightly proud of the Green Revolution ushered in by scientists like Dr. Norman Bolraug and his Indian associate Dr. Ms. Swaminathan. The country was constantly plagued by food shortages since Independence till the early 70s, when the agricultural revolution changed the situation radically.
After the introduction of better seeds, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides and assured irrigation of crops through canals, wells and tubewells, agricultural production multiplied, and over the years food shortages became a matter of the past. This was the macro picture, but small pockets of scarcity remained.
Nonetheless on an all-India basis the Green Revolution was a grand success as it turned the county from a principally food-importing one to a food exporter. It all went well for a couple of decades and nobody seemed to bother too much about the long-term environmental consequences of the revolution. In the first flush of unprecedented success nobody had any reason to worry.
The picture began to change dramatically by the mid-90s as reports of falling groundwater tables in Punjab started appearing in the media. The Washington-based World Watch Institute predicted that the groundwater in Punjab would last only 25 years. It wondered as to where the people of Punjab would go after that. Then it observed that the Punjabis did not seem to be mindful of their future generations’ need for a vital resource like water.
As per the latest reports from Punjab the symptoms of a major ecological failure have begun to appear within a decade rather than in two and half decades of World Watch forcast. The conditions of certain areas in Punjab have become identical to that of millions of hectares in Central Asia in the Amu Darya region. The entire land in that region has been rendered highly toxic with the residue of pesticides, weedicides and chemical fertilisers. There is no water in the entire region, which has become a toxic dust bowl. The once mighty Amu Darya has become a narrow, shallow sewage canal where nobody can risk catching fish, much less drinking its water. The entire region is virtually abandonned today.
At least one village of Punjab, Malsinhwalla, has reached that stage. The locals have put up a board outside the village announcing "Village for Sale". But nobody is ready to buy a disaster. Water table has fallen 1,000 feet below the surface. The soil has been rendered useless and highly toxic with excessive residue of weedicides, pesticides, chemical fertilisers and heavy metals. Out of 1,800 acres of village land 800 acres has become barren and useless. Water-borne diseases and other ailments related to a contaminated environment have forced the villagers to spend upto 30 percent of their income on medical expenses, according to an NGO, Janhit Foundation.
Janhit has warned that sooner or later similar conditions will obtain in all of Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh where similar agricultural practices are the norm. Use of crop varieties demanding less water, gradual replacement of chemical fertilisers and pesticides with their organic variants and similar practices have to be adopted to reverse the environmental decline. In fact, an entirely new set of alternative practices have to be introduced sooner than later. This is an SOS. g
Mohd. Zeyaul Haque