By October 31, the Punjab government will install water purifier reverse osmosis (RO) plants in 561 villages and localities currently not having access to safe drinking water due to heavy metal contamination in groundwater.
The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) on Tuesday sanctioned Rs. 89 crore to set up the ROs, while another project of Rs. 150 crore to install 905 ROs is under the active consideration of the NABARD, government sources said.
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has given top priority to overcome what seems to be the government's chronic failure to even ensure safe drinking water supply to the people. In the budget for the current fiscal, the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party government had promised to install ROs "in all villages" facing the problem of heavy metal contamination in groundwater.
"The NABARD has sanctioned one project of Rs. 89 crore and we have set October 31 as the deadline to set up 561 ROs," a government functionary said. "Very shortly, we are expecting the NABARD to also release Rs. 150-crore loan for 905 ROs, which will be installed by December in areas we have already identified."
The state government has been seeking technical help from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to deal with the growing problem of uranium in groundwater. The presence of uranium and other heavy metals in groundwater in the state, mainly in the Malwa region, has set the alarm bells ringing.
Of the 15,000 samples of underground water collected from tubewells across Punjab, 1,466 had failed and the presence of uranium, arsenic and other metals was found. The metallic as well as non-metallic contamination of water poses serious health-related problems.
The BARC had also recommended setting up RO systems as an alternative to overcome water contamination in areas where potable water supply is primarily based on underground water.
As per official records, the state government has already installed 1,811 ROs across the state by spending Rs. 270 crore. But now the focus will be on areas having metallic contamination in the underground water. The government has conducted a survey, which has pointed out that the groundwater in districts such as Ludhiana, Sangrur, Jalandhar, Moga, Patiala and Hoshiarpur, has metallic contamination, including uranium.