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All Aboard India’s Crowded ‘Cancer Train’

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Download Opposition parties in India are calling on the government to declare parts of the Malwa belt in the Punjab countryside “Cancer areas” due to the high rate of disease.

Cancer was considered an urban disease, suffered by people who lived in cities choked with industry and pollution.

But research by one of the most respected medical institutes in India, the Punjab's School of Public Health, found that farming villages using large amounts of pesticides have significantly higher rates of cancer than villages that use less of the chemicals.

Jasvinder Sehgal went to investigate further and has this report from Bikaner in Rajasthan.

Train no. 339 pulls into the station in the western Indian town of Bikaner in Rajasthan state"

Locals call this train by a chilling name — "the cancer train."

It routinely carries at least 60 cancer patients and there relatives.

Surinder Singh gets off the train.  He is a farmer from Barnala in Punjab.

“I have brought my ailing mother who is suffering from Cancer. My two other relatives are also here in the cancer hospital. Basically we believe the disease is due to contaminated water due to the use of pesticides in farming. If we have access to clean water then no body will get sick.”

Nearby Ramandeep Kaur, from Muktsar Punjab is getting off the train alone.

She was diagnosed with Cancer a year and half ago.

“My husband has thrown me out of my house and says that it is the responsibility of my parents to get me treated. I was brought to my home town by my brother and his wife. Because it’s expensive to get treatment everyone has abandoned me. Now I have come here on my own.”

Along with the 60 other passengers she walks to the taxi stand and hails a ride to the “Acharya Tulsi Cancer Hospital and research centre”.

This is a Government Hospital where diagnosis and treatment of cancer is free.

At the hospital, Jagjeet Singh a cotton grower from Mansa has no doubts about how he got the cancer.

“Cotton farmers are the worst affected because the maximum amount of pesticide is sprayed in cotton fields, moreover, banned pesticides are also in use. We also drink milk from the buffalos who give milk only after being injected with hormones.”

Dr. R.K.Choudhary who is in-charge of the “Cancer Hospital” agrees with him.

“Incidence of cancer in various organs in Punjab is to a great extent due to use of chemicals, fertilizers or use of various artificial things.”

The Green Revolution swept across Punjab and much of Asia in the 1960s and '70s. "Green" did not refer to what it means today — organic farming.

This Green Revolution was led by a loose network of politicians, scientists and philanthropists who were convinced that if farmers in developing countries like India switched from traditional methods to the western way of farming — with pesticides, fertilizers and high-yield seeds — they could fight hunger.

The Green Revolution helped India transform itself from a nation that sometimes begged for food aid to one that often exports grains.

But many farmers in Punjab now wonder if they're paying a price.

Brijlal is the local leader of cotton grower association in Bhatinda.

“We are using poisonous Fertilizer and pesticides which in turn are yielding poisoned crops. When we face the brunt of cancer then we feel that we are cultivating poison, in fact Green revolution is not green, it is carcinogenic.”

Dr. Varinder Kaur is a scientist and a Phd in Chemistry at Rajasthan University.  

She says that scientific studies prove correlation between pesticide use on farms and cancer in the Punjab farming community.

“On the basis of data we found a statistically significant increase in cancer rates in high-pesticide areas, although industrial pollution, usage of heavy metals, tobacco use and other factors also aggravates the cancer rates. One of the studies at Department of Human Biology in Punjabi University has proved a significant DNA damage in 36 percent of farmers’ blood samples and the worst affected are the cotton, paddy and wheat growers. Basically, Pesticides damage the DNA and eventually its fragmentation thus increasing the chances of cancer and chromosome mutation.”

Researchers have also found very high level of uranium concentration in the hair samples of children of the Malwa region. Along with the traces of heavy metals.

Satish Chandra is the Health Secretary of the Government of Punjab. 

He has just returned after visiting the “Cancer Train” along with the Health Minister of the state. 

He promises more government assistance for Cancer patients. 

“We have three Medical Colleges in the state where Eight hundred million Indian rupees will be spent on upgrading cancer treatment facilities. We will set up a new Cancer treatment centre at Bhatinda. New Hospitals are being established under Public - Private Partnership at Bhatinda and Mohalli. The government has also decided to begin a cancer registry program in the state for identifying cancer patients.”

But Jagjeet Singh a cotton grower from Mansa demands the government address the underlying causes.

“All the Fertilizers and Pesticides are produced under the governments supervision. These carcinogenic products should be immediately banned. There should be attempts to promote organic farming, the drinking water should be clean and the sewerage facilities should be improved so as to reduce the cases of cancer.”

If the problem is not address, this train will continue to carry Cancer patients off the farms and into the city.



1. abandoned: ditinggalkan, terlantarkan

2. artificial: tiruan

3. chilling: mengerikan

4. poisonous: beracun

5. aggravates: memperburuk

6. suffered: menderita

7 philanthropist: dermawan

8. switched: bertukar

9. brunt: bagian terberat, pukulan berat 

10. underlying: pokok


1. What it the "cancer train" and why do people call it that?

2. Where is the Malwa Belt as and why do many people in that area have  cancer?

3. What is the Green Revolution?

4. Who is the Health Secretary of the State of Punjab and how will the  state  help these cancer patients?

5. What are the demands of Jagjeet Singh  the local cotton grower?

Last Updated ( Monday, 07 February 2011 18:15 )  
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