Vikram Chowdhary | Updated: September 06, 2009 10:46 IST
Twelve-year-old Harpartik Kaur can barely walk or talk while other kids of her age play and grow taller by the day.
Harpartik has spent the better part of her life at a special clinic. Her doctors claim she has been crippled by uranium poisoning.
"Some people say it's because of uranium. It may be because of polluted ground water. We don't know but it has affected our lives," said Bhupinder Kaur, Harpartik's mother.
We meet hundreds of children like Harpartik at Baba Farid Centre for Special Children, a naturopathy center, battling birth defects, physical and mental abnormalities.
From north India, 120 children were randomly selected for an international study. It showed 113 of them had uranium in their bodies, up to 50 times the normal level.
Not a coincidence, people at Baba Farid Centre say that most of the affected children are from Punjab, and also the uranium levels are higher among children from Malwa, which has Punjab's two biggest coal-fired power stations.
Fly ash from burnt coal contains high levels of uranium and ash that has possibly contaminated Malwa's soil and ground water.
"Some scientists have also showed in their studies that fly ash from thermal plants is responsible for this uranium toxicity and another suspect is fertilizers," said Pritpal Singh, president, Baba Farid Centre.
Punjab is heavily dependent on thermal power projects to suffice the electricity needs. Every year millions of ton of coal is brunt to produce electricity. Now many believe that people are paying a heavy price.
Punjab government has run a series of tests to counter the accusations with the help of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.
"We have seen the reports of Trombay Centre. They have clearly stated that there is no side affect of uranium and they have studied in the hair parts and the levels are very much below the levels. So that can't cause any mental retardation or any abnormality," said Dr Viviek Jain, civil surgeon, Faridkote.
The government says Harpartik and her friends are victims of genetic disorders.
But each week, as more cases come up, doctors and heartbroken families beg for intervention in what could be a larger health crisis brewing in the region.
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