Of Five Rivers In Water Crisis And Water Chaos
By Umendra Dutt
05 October, 2006
month Punjab has been declared as the over all best state in the country
by India Today news magazine for the third conjunctive year. It is good
to have a prize for Punjab and state government has immediately taken
this as an opportunity to have publicity campaign for its achievement.
But there is another side of the picture also which shows doom, distress
and destruction is fast engulfing this land of five waters. It is a
Water-Chaos in the Punjab.
We can see farmers committing
suicides due to failure of pumps, neighbors in farms killing each other
over the quarrel for irrigation water, Women are bound to fetch water
on their head from as far as 3 kms, and a vast majority of people have
no option other then to drink sub-human water. We can see long queues
around certain hand pumps adjacent to canals for potable water; we can
find farmers fetching water on trolleys, bullock carts, jeeps, and village
made jeep-the jogards, motor bikes and bicycles in several villages.
The situation is more pity
in southern districts of state in Malwa region, but situation is fast
becoming all most same in entire Punjab. There are news of public demonstrations,
road-blocks, dharnas and civil unrest on the issue of water. Students
boycotting the classes and even an engineering collage near Malout have
forced to declare vacations for three days as there is no water supply
to the institute in April 2006. Students at ITI Moga went on strike
to protest against non-availability of drinking water.
The water crisis is so vast
that it had engulfed every nook and corner of the state. You can find
farmers demonstrating in Talwandi Sabo, Pathankot, Fazilka, Malout,
Muktsar, Hoshiarpur and Garhshankar. Then there are demonstrations by
urban people at Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana , and list is end less.
Water scarcity had impacted
daily lives and routine of Punjab peoples. They have to spend time and
money to bring water from safe sources. Residents of Talwandi Bhai and
Mudki towns in Ferozepur are compelled to drink un-potable water and
if they wished to drink near potable water they had to travel as far
8 KMs to fetch the same. In Talwandi Sabo block also villagers in some
of adjoining villages has to bring water from as far as 10 KMs. In Malsingh
Wala village one could see peoples toeing water not only to drink, but
also for bath and for their animals. It is 100% water importing village.
Malsingh Wala has already declared itself as 'village for sale'. Even
earlier village Harkishanpura which was first village to put itself
on sale has also severe water problem. There is no water for irrigation
neither for drinking. The water crisis made village insolvent and compelled
villagers to put village on sale. The situation is almost same in whole
of Malwa region. The severe water crisis is also becoming a social stigma
upon some villages. It is tough to find bride for village youths as
no body wants to marry his/her daughter to these villages.
Water crisis is so pitiable
that village Buladewala with population of 6000 is getting water from
2 hand pumps only. Situation is so grim that in urban and sub-urban
areas people are forced to install expensive submersible pumps to fetch
water. More is the depth more it costs on drilling and then it needs
further higher capacity motor to fetch water and more power bill; it
is unending process now in most parts of the Punjab.
Even villagers' drinking
water from sub-human system has no other option left "It is better
to drink unfit water then die of thirst- says Barjinder Singh a farmer
from village Malsingh wala.
The water crisis is fast
deepening in Malwa that public anguish is raising all around. About
three dozen villages of Talwandi Sabo had already declared to boycott
the coming assembly elections in the state to mark the protest against
non-availability of water.
Potable water is latterly
become a saleable good even in villages. Villagers at Tarkhanwala, Shekhu,
Check Hira Singh and Bagha in district Sangrur are forced to purchase
water at Rs 150/- per trolley from neighboring Haryana village Tigri.
Even in Malsingh Wala and other adjoining villages villagers have to
pay for diesel to the trolley owner to get water regular.
It is irony that water is
selling in that very land which has abundance water resources once and
it is more tragic that this commercialization of water is done not by
any company it is being commercialized by villagers themselves. This
is erosion of value-system related to water.
It is new trend that now
farmers in Punjab are committing suicide as their tube wells are going
dry. As water level is going down drastically day by day the farmers
are forced to spend money to get water from new depth. In some of areas
this is very common phenomenon. This also adds more debt burden on Punjabi
farmers. Here are few examples:
Khushpal Singh (42) a small
farmer of village Gajewas in Patiala district, committed suicide in
June 2005 as he failed to get the bore re-installed after drastic fall
in water levels. Already he had piled up debts and when he could not
raise money to get the bore-well workable again he consumed pesticide.
Another young farmer of same village Baljinder Singh (23) found dead
on his farm. He faced similar situation and when he could not sow paddy
as his tube-well became absolutely redundant. His mother describes the
situation" we didn't have the money to reinstall it and couldn't
sow paddy, our only means of existence. He lost all hope."
Re-digging a bore and making
it operational cost about Rs 1 lakh, which is not possible for a marginal
or small farmer to afford. Same is story of Mal Singh Wala village where
Makhan Singh (35) committed suicide due to debt burden accumulated over
the years as he has taken loan for re-digging. There is more tragic
and sad story of Sukhchain Singh and Jinder Singh both brothers in their
thirties and sons of Labh Singh a small farmer of Lehel Kalan village
near Lehragaga in Sangrur district. Both had committed suicide one after
one as their tube-well has been failed. They are unable to pay back
loan taken for re-digging and the tube-well again went dry, forcing
them to end their lives.
Taking water out of deep
aquifers is really becoming costly affair some body has paying its price
by his life and it is no other then the poor labours. This is another
deadly aspect of re-digging. Every year here are about hundred incidents
in which labour, masons and mechanics working to dig deep tube-well
die due to collapse of well. The poor labours lost their lives as water
level has dipped to the new depths. These incidents are rising every
A large number of farmers
suicides taken place in Malwa region were some how related to water
crisis, either re-digging and re-installing and high operational cost
or bad quality of water leads to decline in crop productivity.
Sorrow saga did not end here
after water related suicides now we have to face murders. One farmer
Sarabjeet Singh was killed by his neighbor after an altercation and
sudden provocation over drawing irrigation water in village Butala in
Amritsar district. One could find hundreds of news regarding altercation,
tension and man handling across the Punjab over the water for irrigation,
particularly during the paddy season. These instances are the indictor
of social crisis knocking the door of Punjab.
Now there is growing demand
for more canal water in Central and North Punjab districts in Majha
and Doaba regions for irrigation. Even few farmers have started debating
on riparian rights among the various districts of Punjab. This is really
a bad news for Punjab . With ever increasing demand of irrigation water
and with drastic receding ground water levels the problem is fast becoming
very serious crisis.
This crisis further compounds
as dark zones are rapidly increasing in Punjab. The Green revolution
agriculture system based on greed, exploitation and misappropriation
of nature has enhanced the human lust for squeezing the Mother Nature
and her resources. It has broken the mother-son relation of farmer and
earth resulting ruthless use – misuse of earth resources. In 1970-71
there were only 1.92 lakh Tube wells in Punjab, in 80-81 there were
6 lakh tube wells, and in 90-91 number went up to 8 lakh, 2000-01 again
number rises upto 10 lakh and now there are about 14 lakh tube wells.
This has resulted in making districts after districts dark zone –
the highly over exploited area. Entire fertile region of central Punjab
is dark zone now plunging the state into unimaginable ecological catastrophe.
After any area declared as dark zone no new tube well is allowed, but
one can find hundred of drilling machines working in dark zones.
In 1984 there were 53 blocks
as dark zones, in 1995 they were 84 and in 2005 the figure went up to
108 out of total 138 development blocks in Punjab. Ground water level
falling much faster then assumed. In 1973 only 3% area of Punjab has
water table below 10 meters, it goes up to 14.9% in 1989, 20% in 1992,
and 28% in 1997, 53% in 2000, 76% in 2002 and in 2004 the situation
goes beyond expectations when 90% area of Punjab is drawing water from
the depth of more then 10 meters. More over 30% area of Punjab has depth
of 20 meters or even more.
On the contrary the Punjab
has lost its most of natural systems of ground water recharging in last
two decades. The natural wetlands of Punjab were almost disappears and
so is the condition of village ponds. Ponds are encroached, filled and
used as farm or building was constructed on its land. Thus disturbing
the eco-system and jeopardizing the natural recharging of aquifers.
This mind less destruction of ponds was done under very government patronage.
Knowingly or un-knowingly who so ever they are, are environmental criminals
who pushed the future generations of Punjab into sorrow saga of distress,
death, destruction and displacement.
Unfortunately, Punjab is
about to lose her wetlands not only due to wrong planning but also due
to criminal negligence and greedy deeds of mankind. Punjab had already
lost its several wetlands. The great Bhupindra Sagar Lake in Sangrur
district, which was once known as favorite hunting spot of Maharaja
Bhupindra Singh of Patiala , is totally vanished. The mighty Bhupindra
Sagar was once spread over the area of 1280 Hectares. The list of disappeared
wetlands is an indication of devastation, which is knocking the door
of Punjab. Few of districted wetlands are Chhangli Chhamb – 1000
Ha, Chhangli Tabo-140 Ha, Chhamb gurditwala Ferozpur-100 Ha, sangeri
Mansa-41 Ha, Sharmkot Gurdaspur-12 Ha, Gaunspur chhamb Hoshiarpur-100
Ha, Jandwal Chhamb Hoshiarpur-100 Ha, Rahon De Chhamb Jallandhar 300
Ha. The one of major wetlands in Punjab "Tarkiana" wetland
near Dasuha, is no more on ground, remains only on papers. Other wetlands
as Jasterwal, Khanuwan, Lobana (near Nabha), Mand Bharthala, Rababsar
and Bareta are the worst victims of man-made disaster and ignorance.
The Lobana wetland is almost dead though government considers it a wetland
on papers; wetland is loosing its area to encroachments. This is the
common fate of all natural wetlands of Punjab. But, man-made wetlands
are also facing almost similar threats. The wetland eco-system along
with river eco-sphere in Punjab is passing through very critical stage
and this entire scenario
Apart from this the several
major reservoirs such as Sitasar (Sunam), Ajj Sarovar (Kharar), Mullanpur
GaribDass, Gharian, Pandusar (Dasuha), RajeTal, Bopa Rai Kalan, Kahangarh,
Chamunda Devi, Thand Kasel, Attariwala, Batala, Gurdaspur, Bhagna, Fethgarh
Churrien, Chmiari, Preet Nagar, Ramsar, Lakshmansar (Amritsar) are in
condition of distress. Several among these have marvelous architectural
design with splendor beauty, but now only ruin remains. Most of these
ponds are situated in Amritsar district. One can see the tradition of
constructing ponds in Punjab through the windows of Ghats of these majestic
monuments. The former princely city of Sangrur once had four major reservoirs
on all four corners of town, but the man made foolish decisions killed
all four tanks, and this is too declared as the so called modern development.
The princely town of Nabha was also lost its famous HattiKhanna Talab
along with several other ponds in town and in adjacent villages. The
ruins of traditional ponds system of Punjab can be found in the districts
of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur and Ropar. The remains of puckka
ghats with beautiful construction are the evidence of the rich native
tradition of Ponds, their architect and design in Punjab. But this great
glory of conserving water is the thing of forgotten past. Today nobody
is aware about it and no body wants to care about it. It is sad and
unfortunate its own people put this great pond system on death in Punjab.
With this the situation worsened
more. In 1980 there are 3712 villages identified as drinking water problem
villages, this figure went up to 6287 in 1990, and then in year 2000
the number goes as high as 8518 and as of now 11849 villages or habitations
out of total 12423 in Punjab are facing drinking water problems.
Another aspect of crisis
is fast deteriorating quality of ground water along with canal water.
According to a survey done by Punjab Remote Sensing Centre at Punjab
Agriculture University, Ludhiana and National Bureau of Soil Survey
and use planning, Punjab has very high concentration of sodium carbonate
and salinity in tube well water. Survey says that 57% of ground water
is unfit for irrigation. More over some districts of Malwa region are
in deep crisis as they had very less percentage of their ground water
up to the mark. Muktsar has only 38% quality water, Faridkot –
33%, Mansa 35%, Sangrur-34%, Bathinda - 19.77% and Moga has poor 14.98%
of ground water fit for irrigation. The Punjab level picture is gloomier
as 7.7% ground water in entire state is totally unfit, 5.3% has high
salt contents and 42.1% contains sodium bicarbonate. Several farmers
in Bathinda, Mansa, Muktsar, Faridkot and Moga districts lost their
crop productivity and yield. The geo-physical analysis of ground water
of Punjab shows that it contains high levels of Fluorine, Nitrates,
Sulphate, Sodium, Selenium, cadmium, chromium and even nickel.
The poor water quality also
results in higher consumption of fertilizers and other nutrients to
sustain the falling yields. Farmers are spending on gypsum and zinc
every year to counter the effects of salinity. Salts in water the also
block percolation process that facilitate recharging of ground water.
This highly sub-standard ground water is also contributing high incidences
of cancer in Malwa. There are several water bourn diseases spreading
in entire Punjab, but Malwa is worst victim. Graying of hairs, arthritis,
and fluorosis both skeletal and dental has already taken over the dieses
The situation is alarming
as on the one hand ground water is fast going down day by day and on
the other hand its quality is not only deteriorating but already deteriorated.
The doom does not end here,
there are more stark facts yet has to come. Take canal water now. In
earlier days canal water is considered ideal for irrigation is no more
so, courtesy industrial pollution and un-treated effluents released
in rivers and rivulets. This has further deepens the water crisis and
woes of common people. The canal water in most of areas is contaminated
and polluted. The situation had becomes worst during summer-season.
This year Malwa region had faced unprecedented water crisis when black
water flows through canals containing contaminators, pollutants, toxicants
and whole lot of chemicals. Districts of Faridkot, Muktsar, Bathinda
and Abohar-Fazilka were literally on water wars, as Municipal Committees
were forced to stop supplying tap water to the people. Even Muktsar
civic body had made public announcement to not to drink municipal water.
The water is stinking and a dangerous substance flowing in taps distributing
diseases. This canal water is even unfit for irrigation also.
The ground water is contaminated
more near the rivers and drains. The untreated industrial waste released
into drains ,which is further seeping into the lands and thus polluting
the ground water. Several towns are witnessing this problem. The lives
of people living along side of drains in Punjab are fast becoming vulnerable
to even DNA damage. Dr J S Thakur of PGIMER who is working on this issue
admits that water contaminated by untreated industrial waste might be
leading to the DNA change and making people predisposed to cancer and
congenital diseases. His views were supported by Dr. Gursatej Gandhi
scientist at Genetics Department, Guru Nanak Dev University , Amritsar
who had worked in Mahal village situated on the bank of a drain which
carries industrial affluent. She says the ground water contamination
due to industrial waste disposal in drains is causing very severe health
challenge. The toxic waste after seeping into ground water brings several
irreversible health damages. She cites examples of not only DNA damage,
but also chromosome damage, premature ageing and other adverse effects
due to drinking of this contaminated ground water.
This situation again put
extra financial burden on citizens. The sale of water filters and purifiers
has shot up in last two years in Punjab. The ordinary people in fear
of cancer and other deadly dieses are purchasing expensive water purifiers,
even by taking loan. Providing safe water has become money minting business
in the very land of five rivers. This has bound to be deep cultural
impacts besides socio-economic stress in society.
These are few glimpses of
water crisis in Punjab. To bring Punjab out of this devastation, the
civil society has to act today only, tomorrow may be too late. Save
Water is not mere a slogan it should become convection, commitment and
mission of every proud Punjabi. More over the role of Punjab government,
politicians, beurocrates and decision makers is yet not in accordance
with the gravity of the crisis. Punjab has to evolve a strategy, action
plan, water policy and most important its water vision to save its existence.
But all these should based on eternal values preached by our glorious
water heritage and wisdom.
The land of Guru Nanak, who
has given a rousing call for wellbeing of all creators and shown the
first struggle on water rights of common people, is fast loosing its
water heritage. There would be no more Bhai Khaniya, who was called
the true Sikh by Guru Gobind Singh and who had served water without
any thought of friend and enemy, who gave water to each and every one
without any discrimination, if there is no water left in Punjab.
Without Aab we can not imagine
Punj aab. How could we do Sarbbat da Bhala – wellbeing of alls
if there is no water?
State number One should wake
up to save its very character.
(Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission. Jaitu, Faridkot
district based environmental NGO. Phone: 9872682161, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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