Polluted Punjab: Amid politics & plans, problem persists | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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Polluted Punjab: Amid politics & plans, problem persists

In May 2011, hundreds of volunteers from Rajasthan gathered at the outskirts of Jalandhar and joined environmentalist Balbir Singh Seechewal’s local taskforce in blocking the Kala Sanghian drain. More than three years on, the drain that meets the river Sutlej continues to poison the Rajasthan feeder canal.

chandigarh Updated: Jan 26, 2015 12:56 IST
Prabhjit Singh
The-confluence-of-a-Sutlej-blackened-by-pollution-with-a-relatively-clean-Beas-at-Harike-HT-photos
The-confluence-of-a-Sutlej-blackened-by-pollution-with-a-relatively-clean-Beas-at-Harike-HT-photos

In May 2011, hundreds of volunteers from Rajasthan gathered at the outskirts of Jalandhar and joined environmentalist Balbir Singh Seechewal’s local taskforce in blocking the Kala Sanghian drain. More than three years on, the drain that meets the river Sutlej continues to poison the Rajasthan feeder canal.

The confluence of the Sutlej with the Beas at Harike presents a stark picture of how the blackish Sutlej merges with the comparatively clean Beas, and the water from there feeds southern Punjab and Rajasthan through the Sirhind feeder and Indira Gandhi canal.

In that region, though, the water shows its toxic effect as hundreds of villages in southern Punjab and eight districts of Rajasthan— from Hanumangarh to Barmer suffer cancer, hepatitis B, jaundice and other such water-borne diseases. Governments of Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana, along with the Union ministry of environment and forests, are even facing litigation in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on this issue.

Further, Hanumangarh-based SAWERA (Social Welfare of Environment and Revolution Association) activists had in May 2014 exposed the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) for submitting a false affidavit before the NGT that had stated that no industrial waste was being allowed to flow into the Buddha Nullah.

“After the PPCB submitted a defensive affidavit, we came all the way to Ludhiana, filled up the bottles with the water and showed it to the NGT bench in one of the hearings,” SAWERA secretary Rajendra Prasad told HT on phone from Hanumangarh.

The next date of hearing is January 30, by which the Union ministry is to submit its reply on the role of the PPCB and other state governments, besides steps taken or under process to prevent the pollution, he added.

ON POLITICAL FRONT

Aam Aadmi Party MP from Patiala, Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, is hoping that his proposal for cleaning the Ghaggar and some preventive steps to save it from future ruin is acted on by Union minister Uma Bharti. He fears misuse of funds if the Centre sends the money for Ghaggar through the Punjab government, though he is enthused by a reply from Uma Bharti as a “positive response”.

“Today, mineral water bottles are being handed to us; tomorrow we might be given masks. This is a development model!” he quipped. “You must ask the previous MPs what they have done during their tenures,” he suggested, laying stress on political will to save the rivers.

Dr Gandhi’s predecessor and three-time former MP Preneet Kaur, who is now an MLA, threw the onus on the SAD-BJP government, claiming that her initiatives to save the Ghaggar had been scuttled by the state regime. “What can you do when there is opposition to every move by the ruling parties in the state?” she wondered.

When asked about efforts during the 2002-07 Congress regime, Preneet argued that half the term of that government, led by her husband Capt Amarinder Singh, was spent in a battle with financial constrains. “And after efforts like inviting tenders for the sewage treatment plant in Patiala were made in the last two years of the regime, the Akali-BJP coalition came to power,” she said, adding another argument, “Earlier, the main concern was the frequent flooding of the Ghaggar; above the pollution angle.”

For BJP’s Jalandhar MLA and the state’s former industries minister Manoranjan Kalia, “pollution is the price of advancement and development which mankind has to pay”. However, he added that big industrial units that are violating norms and polluting the environment should be dealt with strictly. He batted for a “central policy taking the states’ viewpoints into consideration” to prevent industrial pollution. “Yamuna and Ganga are much more polluted,” he added, highlighting Punjab as “no exception”.

INDUSTRY BLAMES ‘SYSTEM’

Ludhiana’s dyeing units and the Jalandhar’s leather units fall short when it comes to proper effluent treatments plants, admit stakeholders in both these sectors. “A common effluent treatment plant (CETP) of 90 MLD (million litres per day) capacity will be commissioned within this year, as the work on this project is in full swing,” claimed Ashok Makkar, president of the Ludhiana Dyeing Units’ Association. “The government and the PPCB are rising to the situation now, when environmental loss has touched a high,” Makkar added.

Jalandhar-based Leather Industries Association’s former president Parveen Kumar informed that the leather unit cluster on Kapurthala Road emergently needs a CETP of 10 MLD capacity against the current 5-MLD plant. He acknowledged the immediate shortfall of the existing plant by 1.5 MLD, blaming the political influence of a particular unit owned by the brother of Akali MLA Avinash Chander.

“The high court has recently disbanded the panel dominated by them (the MLA’s lobby), and now the ball is in the Jalandhar deputy commissioner’s court for taking steps to revive the system,” he said.

LOTS ON PAPER

As for the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), it is the nodal agency to assure that all big, sensitive industrial units like those for pharmaceuticals and other chemicals, besides leather tanneries, install “real time (24-hour) online monitoring” across Punjab by March 31. Such instructions came over a year ago from the Central Pollution Control Board, a PPCB official said, maintaining that the PPCB was ready with its own software to monitor online these 24-hour monitoring systems. It is waiting for the identified units, 27 in Dera Bassi industrial area alone, to install the systems by the March 31 deadline.

But there is no record as to how many such identified units installed the systems in the past one year.

The PPCB is also working on a project for a common effluent treatment plant (CETP) for the Mohali industrial area over seven acres at a cost of ` 50 crore. The project is expected to come up in a year’s time, said PPCB executive enegineer SS Matharu, in-charge of Mohali and Rupnagar districts.

For PPCB member-secretary Babu Ram, STPs in the offing would ensure that the task of preventing pollution is “more than half done”.