Decaying land fertility, lack of proper education and a stagnant employment scenario is driving more and more Punjab youth towards drug abuse
There is a general impression about Punjab that it is the land of high productivity agriculture and well-built healthy people. However, a silent health and environmental crisis sweeping across the State, known for its hardy farmers, sturdy soldiers and valiant freedom fighters, is draining it of its vitality.
Perhaps the biggest problem which has shattered the physical and mental health of Punjab's youth is the alarming rise in drug addiction. It is now officially admitted that about 70 per cent of the State's youth have been affected by some form of drug abuse. Alcoholism was a problem even earlier, but in recent years it is drug addiction which has emerged as the biggest killer of youth.
Manmohan Sharma, executive director of Punjab branch of Voluntary Health Association of India, says, “Land holdings kept getting smaller with every generation. The kind of education imparted to youth alienated them from agriculture, but at the same time did not qualify them to the extent that the jobs coveted by them could be accessible to them. In a situation of stagnating local employment, youth tended to become more outward looking given the background of remittances from abroad in Punjab. But of course only a small percentage could actually get proper jobs abroad. This led to a situation of aimlessness and drifting around.”
Compared to some other States, more cash was available with several families thanks to the early Green Revolution gains and the remittances from abroad. There was rampant smuggling of drugs from across the border as well as more organised efforts to spread the drug habit among youth. The volatile situation of Afghanistan and the flourishing opium smuggling there also had its impact in Punjab due to its relative proximity.
Moreover, drug addiction and other serious health problems are also related to increasing agrarian issues. As Prof. Jagmohan Singh, a nephew of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh and secretary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Research Committee, says, “The Green Revolution of Punjab turned after some years into a bleeding red revolution as the farmland got addicted to high does of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The high cost of inputs pushed farmers into indebtedness and a crisis situation. Now the so-called second green revolution being pushed around in the form of genetically modified (GM) crops is likely to prove even more harmful for farmers”.
“At the same time”, Prof. Singh continues, chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides also took an increasing toll on the health of people. As soil health was destroyed and various nutrient deficiencies, particularly deficiency of micro-nutrients, appeared, this also adversely affected the nutrition of food crops. There is evidence that staple foods deprived of some key micro-nutrients can make people more vulnerable to come under the influence of intoxicants.
Prof. Singh, who retired recently from the Punjab Agriculture University, says that health threats emerging from food and agriculture are likely to accentuate as GM crops are being pushed despite their well established health hazards. Another disturbing trend is that education in government schools is suffering from neglect, while privatisation of education is being promoted in various ways. Thus the possibility of rural youths getting a proper education is further reduced, adding to frustration and aimlessness which provide fertile ground for problems like drug abuse.
Clearly problems like drug addiction cannot be seen in isolation, but are linked to the overall development paradigm which promotes inequalities and alienation. The authorities ignore the more basic and deeply rooted problems while at best providing short-term, populist solutions to the problem faced by people. The result is that in the ‘land of five rivers' today water-table is receding alarmingly and in the famous bread-basket of India soil-fertility is getting depleted badly. These basic issues have to be put on top of the development agenda in future.