Sidhwan Canal, an 88km distributory of Bhakra Nangal dam, which crosses the city near Verka Milk Plant has become a one-stop spot for residents to dump garbage and other wastes in the name of religious practices. The canal is a major source of irrigation for farmers in adjoining areas.
Various waste materials like polythene bags, idols of Gods and Goddesses, lamps (diyas), religious calendars, wedding cards, shagun envelopes and other materials made of stone, clay, marble with toxic paints used in rituals can be seen floating in the canal.
Following the age-old custom of immersing religious material and broken idols in water, residents are fearlessly polluting the canal.
The irony of the situation is that despite the act of polluting water bodies is a punishable offence under the law, the department of irrigation and Punjab Pollution Control Board - the two authoritative bodies - are mum on the issue for fear that any action on their part "might hurt the religious sentiments of people".
Polluting canals can invite imprisonment up to three months and a fine of Rs 500 under Section 70 of the Canal and Drainage Act, 1873. Moreover, the canals department of the state government also has the authority to issue challans to offenders, but no such action has been taken yet.
Amarjit Singh, chief engineer, canals, Punjab, said, "An amendment to the act has already been passed which will increase quantum of punishment to 1 year and fine to Rs 2 lakh. We notify the police station of the area concerned to book the offender under Section 70 of Canal and Drainage Act, 1873."
Singh added that the Punjab Pollution Control Board has the full authority to probe the matter and book those found polluting canals. On being asked that why the canals department is not issuing challans to offenders despite having the power to do so, he tried to bypass the matter by casually saying, "You are absolutely right. It is an offence to pollute canals in the name of religion. It is just that officials hesitate to take action in view of religious feelings of people."
Krunesh Garg, Punjab Pollution Control Board superintendent engineer, Ludhiana, denied that they are the prime authority to book the offenders. "It is the property of the canals department and we can take action only if government directs us to conduct some study and check water quality of the canal," he said.
Garg said "the first custodian of the canals has to do something, then only we can intervene". "We can take action only if there are directions from any department or complaints from public, but nothing of this sort has come to our notice till now."
However, he accepted that "it is the duty of the pollution control board to take action if the canal is being polluted". "It is quite impossible to catch every single person throwing waste in the canal. How can you stand there for the whole day and book offenders?"
'Awareness holds the key'
Krunesh Garg, Punjab Pollution Control Board superintendent engineer, Ludhiana, said the issue of performing rituals in the canal is related to the "age-old religious sentiments of people, which are embedded in society".
"More than the punishment, the matter calls for generating awareness among people," he said.
"Various awareness methods and campaigns like putting up warning boards to discourage people from throwing waste in canals are needed. Sensitisation is the only way to address the problem and the irrigation department must do something in this regard," he added.