Finding quake shelters, breaking bad in Punjab, rice-wheat divide & more

Curious Bends is a weekly newsletter about science, tech., data and India. Akshat Rathi and I curate it. You can subscribe to it here. If have feedback, suggestions, or would just generally like to get in touch, just email us.

1. Pesticides may be to blame for some cancers among India’s farmers

The green revolution in India increased food production but the agrochemicals it used could also have set off a “cancer epidemic”. A three-year study by Punjabi University, Patiala, revealed no confounding factors across demographics except pesticides. Many patients, some of whom travel thousands of kilometers for affordable care, are from the revolution’s belt. (3 min read)

2. A socially cognizant tool to identify quake shelters

Nepali and German scientists have devised a method called Open Space Suitability Index to rank the suitability of public shelters that could be used as quake shelters. Uniquely for it, it assesses both physical and social vulnerability (that is, the risks people, businesses and governments face). (2 min read)

3. Spare the mafia, spoil the smuggler, dealer and consumer

Punjab has a drug problem. Despite widespread efforts by the state to blow it off, then blow it away, its Walter Whites and Jesse Pinkmans persist. One is a cop, the other might be a BSF jawan. Effectively, the Narcotics Control Bureau is lost for ideas, and it might be because the state is targeting the victims instead of the drug mafia. (29 min read)

+ The author of this piece, Ushinor Majumdar, is an ex-lawyer and a journalist with Tehelka.

4. Delayed survey derails health monitoring

As it is India lacks key data to better govern its people. Now, its main source of health statistics, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), has been delayed. The NFHS is a large-scale household sample survey and produces internationally accepted estimates of fertility, mortality, contraceptive use, violence against women and, crucially, malnutrition. The latest survey should have been held in 2010, and it means for the last four years health workers have been blindsided. (2 min read)

5. Forget your 15 minutes of fame, think about your 15% chance of depression

Clinical depression has the dubious distinction of being the second most common cause of suffering in terms of burden of illness. The WHO has predicted it will become the leading cause of death by 2020. If this isn’t alarming, then sample this: new research says that every person in the world has a 15% chance of experiencing their first episode between the ages of 25 and 35. (4 min read)

Chart of the week

According to the 68th National Sample Survey (2011-2012), the consumption of rice has fallen marginally in a seven-year period while that of wheat is on the rise. There is a perceivable split between the Hindi heartland and the southern and eastern states which prefer wheat and rice, respectively. There is also an urban-rural and, intriguingly, a Jammu-Kashmir divide. Read more about it on


If you’re curious for more, follow Akshat and me on Twitter. Enjoy your week!