Every day, Punjab’s towns and cities generate thousands of gallons of sewage that flows untreated into its rivers and groundwater.
Of the 171 cities, big or small, only 43 have upgraded sewage treatment plants (STPs), and while 24 of these 53 facilities built over the past two years are inactive because of the high running cost, more pollutants from the sensitive industrial zones of Ludhiana and Patiala districts continue to run off into the Ghaggar and Sutlej rivers.
The STP commissioned two years ago at Battian near Ludhiana is at rest for want of funds from the municipal corporation, which has hurt more-than-a-decade-old mission of cleaning the Buddha “Nullah” and bought diseases to the industrial and poor suburbs on this Sutlej tributary.
The other towns with upgraded but defunct STPs and polluted water bodies include SAS Nagar, Rajpura, Malout, Muktsar, Fazilka, Mansa, Sardulgarh, Talwandi Sabo, Maur, Jalalabad, Anandpur Sahib, Mullanpur Dakha, Phillaur, Kapurthala, Phagwara, Bholath, Begowal, Dasuya, Sultanpur Lodhi, Bhikkhi, and Dera Baba Nanak.
Most of these 53 STPs, each costing from Rs 3.5 crore to Rs 100 crore depending on the capacity, were built in the year leading up to the state elections in 2012. The money came from the state exchequer or the Punjab Infrastructure Development Board (PIDB), Punjab Municipal Infrastructure Development Company (PMIDC), Punjab Urban Development Authority (PUDA) or Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).
Punjab water supply and sewerage board chief executive officer DK Tiwari said the STPs were defunct because “the municipal bodies do not have the operating money”. “Money’s the only hitch,” he claimed, “and the municipal bodies that are the main sources of revenue that runs these units have put the onus on the local government department.”
Then there are the STP projects that are approved but yet to begin. Amritsar (south-east zone), Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran (zone-1, 2), Ajnala, Fatehgarh Churian, Sultanpur Lodhi, Sahnewalm, Shahkot, Fatehgarh Churian, Bhadaur, and Baghapurana are the cities waiting, as given in a status report that the state government submitted recently in the Punjab and Haryana high court, where it faces petitions against water pollution.
Punjab’s 71 towns, including three district headquarters (Barnala, Faridkot, and Sangrur), have no assigned source to generate money for the STPs. In Faridkot and a handful of smaller towns such as Kotkapura and Jaito, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal had laid the foundation stones of treatment plants but it was before the last parliamentary elections in February 2014 and without any feasibility study.
The category includes the industrial hubs of Batala, Dhariwal, Balachaur, Ahmedgarh, Amloh, Khamano, Morinda, Sirhind, Nabha, Sanaur, Talwara, Sujanpur, Patti and Qadian.
No political will
For more than two years, the state government has not acted on assurance it gave in the Punjab and Haryana high court for 100% metering of the water supply and doing away with the freebies and user charges as laid down in the submitted draft policy. The cabinet, however, has twice rejected this policy to improve the financial condition of the urban local bodies; after first deferment before the parliamentary elections.
Local bodies minister Anil Joshi agreed that the draft policy was in place and it would be implemented. About the delay, he said: “Discussions were on, as we cannot do without this (imposing the user charges).”
The Akali-BJP government, at the end of its previous term in 2012, had waived the water-supply and sewerage user charges for households with less than 125 square yards, and fixed a monthly charge of Rs 105 each for both services to the 5-to-10-marla houses; and Rs 140 each for 10-to-20 marla houses. Meter was to be installed in only houses with more than 20 marlas for the user charges at a rate of Rs 3.80 per 1,000 litres.
With inputs from Raghbir Brar in Faridkot
Tomorrow: Ghaggar river becomes virtual nullah
75% of Punjab’s sewage flows untreated into its rivers, groundwater.
43% of Punjab’s 171 towns have sewage treatment plants (STPs).
24% treatmentplants inactive for want of money.
71% towns, including three district headquarters, have no assigned source of money to run the STPs.
Rs 3cr to Rs 100 crore is the cost of building these plants, depending on the capacity.