Pesticides in our drinking water

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
We have enormous sources of water in Jammu & Kashmir for drinking and as well as irrigation. There are huge glaciers, rivers, streams, lakes and rivulets across J&K. In spite of such abundant water resources, the majority of people living in towns, villages and cities are supplied with unsafe drinking water.The raw water supplied to drinking water supply plants is contaminated, not only by solid or liquid waste or human and animal faecal matter, but various types of pesticides and fungicides that are sprayed in apple and vegetable farms, golf courses, gardens and parks.
Doodh Ganga
Doodh Ganga, which means “Milky River”, is no more milky. This small river originates from the Pir Panjaal glaciers of the inner Himalayan region is pristine and clear when it leaves the glacier. But after travelling just 30 km downstream, it gets contaminated with pesticides which get drained into it from nearby apple orchards.
Solid and liquid waste was already a threat to Doodh Ganga. The water supplied from the Doodh Ganga water filtration plant at Kralpora is unfit for drinking, especially in summer months, when the pesticides sprayed in orchards are washed into it by frequent rains.
The polluted water from Doodh Ganga is lifted at Kralpora filtration plant and then supplied to more than half a million population living in Srinagar uptown after sedimentation and chlorination. Will this be enough to make this water fit for drinking, which not only contains liquid waste but poisonous pesticides too? The Pollution Control Committee hasn’t even looked into this aspect, it seems.
Dumping of waste
Tonnes of municipal solid waste are dumped on the Vishaw river banks in Kulgam, a South Kashmir district headquarter, on a daily basis by none other than the municipal committee. This is an open violation of the Municipal Solid Waste Rules of 2016 by a municipal institution itself, which is supposed to enforce them.
In addition to solid waste and sewage from Kulgam town, pesticides also contaminate this river, which is a drinking water source for thousands of families in Kulgam and Anantnag districts in South Kashmir.
From spring season (March onwards), large amounts of pesticides are sprayed on apple trees in Kulgam district. These get washed into small rivulets and streams and end up in Vishaw river. If there is rainfall after the pesticide spray, the drinking water sources get more contaminated.
The Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department (Jal Shakti) is not only supplying unhygienic and untreated drinking water to people of Kulgam, but also to neighbouring Anantnag and Shopian districts. Experts from the horticulture and agriculture departments have never created any awareness among farmers on management and protection of water bodies from pesticide sprays. The Government should create a joint task force of agencies such as the PHE and the horticulture and agriculture departments to impress upon farmers the need to ensure minimum damage to water bodies while spraying chemicals. It would be better for farmers to shift to organic farming.
Shali Ganga
Shali Ganga river, like Doodh Ganga and Vishaw, also originates from the Pir Panjaal mountain range. This river passes through the famous tourist destination of Doodh Pathri in Budgam district, crosses several villages of Khansahib sub-division and joins Doodh Ganga at Wathoora.
Shali Ganga means “river supplying water to paddy”. There were many paddy fields on the banks of Shali Ganga 20-30 years back. These fields have now been converted either into apple orchards or residential colonies. The PHE lifts raw water from Shali Ganga at many places and supplies them to dozens of villages in Khansahib sub-division and some areas of Chadoora sub-division.
Arigam village gets drinking water from a rivulet directly through an open pipe. The water is contaminated with solid and liquid waste. In summer when pesticides like diammonium phosphate, urea and copper sulphate are sprayed on apple orchards and paddy fields, they too enter the rivulet. If research is conducted on the effects of contaminated water on the health of people in Arigam alone, the results will be shocking. In Jammu region the water supply schemes located around paddy fields of R S Pura and Ranbir canal area also supply contaminated water. The pesticides used in paddy lands enter into drinking water sources in Jammu district as well.
Dal Lake
Even the world-famous Dal Lake in Srinagar is highly contaminated as faecal matter from around 750 houseboats and residential houses enters. The Lakes and Waterways Development Authority, a government-owned body with a huge annual budget, has not found a solution to this problem despite billions spent on the maintenance of the Lake in the last three decades.
The most alarming situation is the use of pesticides in floating vegetable gardens of Dal Lake and surrounding apple orchards.
Pesticides are also used in the famous Mughal and tulip gardens and golf courses in the city and enter Dal Lake.
Prof G A Bhat former Professor Environmental Sciences says that Dal Lake gets regularly contaminated with pesticides from March to August. This is not only harmful for humans, but for fish which is consumed in large quantities by Kashmiris. They too contain pesticides as many scientific studies have proved.
Ironically, water from the Dal Lake is lifted by the PHE- Jal Shakti Department around Pokhribal area near Nigeen and supplied to around two lakh people in some areas of Srinagar’s old city.
Pesticide concentration in drinking water cannot be controlled by obsolete processes like sedimentation or use of bleaching powder, which is normally done by Jal Shakti to kill the bacteria in water. In fact, bleaching powder itself is harmful if used directly in water, as is done in many places of Kashmir. The Jal Shakti department needs to do a lot of research to ensure drinking water is safe from pesticides.
A report published in the International Journal of Pharma Sciences and Research (Dr Muddasir Bandy and others, December 2012) on contamination of fresh water fish, “Schizothorax Niger”, (Algad Snow trout) with chlorpyrifos from “Dal Lake” basins indicates that chlorpyrifos, an organo-phosphate pesticide, was present in “Schizothorax Niger”.
CPCB Needs to Intervene
The State Pollution Control Board, now named the J&K Pollution Control Committee (J&K PCC), has a great role to play in looking into the contamination of drinking water by pesticides. JKPCC can take action against erring farmers who are found violating the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 by draining out chemical fertilisers into drinking water sources.
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 CPCB needs to take a 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.
Brain Cancer
A study by Prof Abdul Rashid Bhat, a neurosurgeon, and others from the SK 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 Jal Shakti Department is unaware of this alarming situation. They have techniques to kill bacteria in water, but what about the treatment of water that contains pesticides? The Department needs to liaison with farmers through Horticulture and Agriculture Departments and seek guidance from the J&K PCC as well. Capacity building programmes should be held for farmers to ensure pesticides used in farms don’t contaminate nearby drinking water sources. The Government needs to come up with legislation and measures to do so.It is a long battle ahead.