At 9:25 at night, this cancer train leaves Bhatinda for Bikaner carrying about 60 percent of cancer patients from Bathinda, Faridkot, Moga, Muktsar, Ferozepur, Sangrur, and Mansa. The patients take this ride of 325 kilometers to Bikaner for the treatment of cancer in Acharya Tulsi Regional Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Bikaner.
The first question that comes to mind is, ‘Why are scores of cancer patients from Punjab taking this cancer train to a far-off place in Rajasthan for treatment when Punjab itself boasts of state of the art facilities for cancer treatment?’ The answer lies in patients’ visible dissatisfaction from the treatments and services received from government hospitals in Punjab.
The Malwa region is in a horrible grip cancer due to the excessive and unregulated use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Worse, the farmers use the empty pesticide cans to store water and food. The fertilizer use in Punjab is sky high: at 380 kilos per hectare, which is the three times higher than the national average, as per the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research. Farmers also use at least 15 different pesticide sprays. Of the top 15 pesticides used, the US’s Environmental Protection Agency considers seven used on cotton in the US as ‘possible’, ‘likely’, ‘probable,’ or ‘known’ human carcinogens (acephate, dichloropropene, diuron, fluometuron, pendimethalin, tribufos, and trifluralin).
This cancer train epitomizes a calamity which is the most heart rendering. But how do we stop this? The citizens, activists, NGOs must make it a national issue and force state government to address this menace at war footing and punish chemical peddlers who are literally playing with the lives of Punjab. We must find ways to revert to organic ways of farming without compromising farmer’s income. It is a steep challenge, but an unavoidable one. Hope we get to disband this unfortunate reference of train as cancer train of Punjab.