There is nothing healthy about the production of pharmaceuticals
in India. In fact, it is harming the lives of people, plants, and
animals in rural India and will sicken generations to come. The
rural town of Patancheru, in the state of Andra Pradesh, was once a
rural idyll. Now home to a third of India’s pharmaceutical
manufacturing plants, the area is a picture of ecological
destruction that would make Dr. Seuss blush: bathing water leaves a
mysterious rash on the skin; water buffaloes produce toxic milk;
babies are born with far more birth defects than they were decades
ago when the area was a pristine agricultural zone. The land no
longer yields crops, leaving the locals to rely on government
rations that typically run out before the month is over. Farmers
are out of commission and their livestock are lucky to survive.
India exports $2.5 billion in pharmaceuticals each year, a
figure that it is expected to climb as high as $6 billion by 2010.
The United States obtains much of its antibiotic supply from India.
Almost 40 percent of India’s export supply is manufactured along a
20-mile stretch running through Patancheru. The end product: lots
of prescription drugs ready for export and lots of hazardous
byproducts poisoning all living things in their path.
Waste management laws have been tightened since the first
manufacturing plant set up shop here in the 1970s. The World Health
Organization has imposed strict international regulations for
pharmaceutical corporations. Patancheru now has safe water piped in
and the air is less polluted due to emission control standards in
manufacturing plants. But much needs to be done to reverse the
effects that decades of stealth midnight waste-dumping and careless
chemical runoff leaked into the water table.
A local doctor, Allani Kishan Rao, who has been treating the
area’s victims for over 30 years, put his community’s dire need
into perspective by comparing the cause of Patancheru to the cause
of the December tsunami. ‘The West, now directly connected to
Patancheru via the global pharmaceutical market, is in a position
to help stop a disaster-in-progress.’ With the potential to harm or
kill as many people, Patancheru looms on the horizon waiting to be
— Marca Bradt
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