Pesticides in ‘Gangajal!’

Bhagalpur, the silk city of India, a small, but fast growing town, located on the banks of the Holy Ganga is facing a peculiar problem. Indian researchers, viz. Leena Singh, S.K. Choudhary and P.K. Singh, respectively of Department of Chemistry, Galgotias of Engineering and Technology, Greater NOIDA, Department of Botany, Bhagalpur University, Bihar and Department of Chemistry, K.M. College, Delhi University, Delhi report elevated pesticide levels in the water samples of Ganga River.

Ganga, the holy River has been polluted beyond imagination, mainly due to wrong doings of the industries on the banks of the river or the indiscriminate dumping of pollutants in the rivulets and nalas joining the river or as in this case the excessive use of pesticides in the crops.

Bhagalpur, the silk city. discharges five mega gallons of untreated waste water per day, which includes urban waste, waste from the dying industry, leather shoes and slipper manufacturing units, hospital and pathological waste. Areas surrounding Bhagalpur are a heaven for the farmers, who have to depend upon the pesticides to save their crops.

Bhagalpur is the second largest city of Bihar with a population of over three million. It is historic town, said to be the part of the ancient Sanskrit Kingdom of Anga. It was at one time ruled by Karna of Mahabharata. It is famous for its special variety of Silk, the Tussar silk for the past 200 years. Being a part of the lower Ganga plains, it is highly fertile terrain as well. It is an irony that agriculture in our country has to bank a lot on the use of pesticides. Often people compare our agriculture with that of developed countries, like the US and say that they have banned the pesticides and we are still sticking to them. The problem is that in tropical countries every form of life, be it human, animal or plant proliferates. Thus, in order to save the crops being devoured by the pests, the use of the pesticides becomes imperative.

The pesticides on the other hand are of many types. Of these the organochlorine pesticides are known to resist biodegradation, and their prolonged residence makes them more concentrated over a period of time. Leena and others say that concentration of DDT in soil becomes 75 to 100% in a period over 30 years. The other type, which is the organophosphorous pesticides are known to degrade rapidly. Alas, the developing countries are often compelled to use the harmful variety of the pesticides, owing to the high cost of manufacturing of the rapidly degrading types of pesticides.

Pesticide manages to reach water bodies through various means. Part of it reaches directly through the runoff in the form of water dissolved matter from the agricultural fields near rivers. Part of it is leached down to the depths and where ever the river takes water from the aquifer, the pesticide reaches the river. It is common practice in India to dump any kind of waste in the rivers. The empty containers of the pesticide are often dumped in the streams and the leftover in them gets dissolved in water. Agricultural waste is also dumped in the river which has pesticide in absorbed form and on decay; it reaches the water of the stream. These pesticides, upon reaching the stream reside in the sediments. The aquatic life is intimately connected with the sediments. Therefore, it is not unusual to find quantities of pesticides in the fish and other animals which reach the human systems through these animals, when consumed as food. It is an established fact that pesticides are reaching the human systems through crops. Even mother’s milk is not spared and the reports are quite alarming.

Ganga, the holy river of our Country runs through a length of 2525 km with a basin area of over one million square kilometer. This river has been the biggest cradle of a civilization after the Harappa period. It holds a population of more than 400 million people residing in 114 districts along the river. Ganga is considered as the soul purifier and a devout Hindu has only one wish, that is to have a few drops of water to be put in his mouth, before he is consigned to flames. Alas, the faith and the civic habits have never gone together. Consequently, the Ganga has been sadly converted into one of the most polluted rivers. A nauseating 1.3 billion liters of the sewer from the population mentioned travels untreated to the river. Leena says, ‘further 260 million liters of industrial wastes, run off from six million tons of fertilizers and 9000 tons of pesticides used within the basin, directly enters the River.’

Bhagalpur, the silk city of India is located on the south bank of the river discharges five mega gallons of untreated waste water per day, which includes urban waste, waste from the dying industry, leather shoes and slipper manufacturing units, hospital and pathological waste. Areas surrounding Bhagalpur are a heaven for the farmers, who have to depend upon the pesticides to save their crops.

Leena and her colleagues carried out a systematic study of pesticides in various reaches of the Ganga around Bhagalpur. Their study revealed a higher level of DDT in the water. Since this pesticide has a longer residency period in the sediments, its concentration goes on increasing as the years pass by.Yet another pesticide that was found to be in higher quantities was Lindane, report Leena et.al. Lindane, though has a residency period of only 18 hours, its presence in drinking water could cause nervous disorders in the humans. Yet another pesticide known to affect the human nervous system is Methyl Parathion. It was found that this pesticide has affected the river fishes as well-not a good signal for the fish eaters of the region.

Since human health is at stake, it is high time that the government and the society takes effective steps to decontaminate the waste before it enters the rivers; the agricultural waste must not be dumped in the river; the river water and ground water must be constantly monitored for the quality.

Although in the present article, example of only Bhagalpur has been taken. But it is for sure that a constant watch on the quantum and type of pesticides in the waters of the Ganga and its tributaries in Uttar Pradesh and adjoining Bihar is a must. More research is required not only about the quantity of pesticides in the holy river, but also about the means of using less harmful pesticides.

Remember, the contemporary Ganga valley civilization is one of the key civilizations of the world today. This area is not only the food basket of the country, but also one of the biggest human resource providers. Thus the health of this region matters a lot for the future of the country.


More by :  V. K. Joshi (Bijji)

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