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Friday, Aug 23, 2019

In Fazilka, groundwater contamination worsens, farmers at receiving end

Punjab farmers blame failure of their crops on the untreated sewage of 21 municipalities of the Malwa belt flowing through various drains into the district, leading to a widespread contamination of groundwater here.

punjab Updated: Aug 05, 2019 14:38 IST
Vishal Joshi
Vishal Joshi
Hindustan Times, Pucca Chsiti (Fazilka)
Sudhir Kumar, a former sarpanch of Sureshwala Sainiyan village in Fazilka, shows untreated sewage flowing in a drain.
Sudhir Kumar, a former sarpanch of Sureshwala Sainiyan village in Fazilka, shows untreated sewage flowing in a drain.(HT Photo )
         

Karaj Singh of Pucca Chisti, a village located near the Indo-Pakistan border in Punjab’s Fazilka district, is upset as he failed thrice to grow the paddy seedlings he transplanted on his 11-acre land this kharif season.

Karaj, who relies on tubewells for irrigation in the absence of canal water, blames for this the untreated sewage of 21 municipalities of Punjab’s Malwa belt flowing through various drains into the district, leading to a widespread contamination of groundwater here.

His claim is backed by the official figures procured by Vikram Ahuja, a farm rights activist, from the state irrigation department. It was on a petition filed by Ahuja that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on July 25 directed the state government to submit a reply into the matter.

“Due to seepage from the Aaspal ditch extension drain, the groundwater source of tubewells and handpumps in the area has been affected adversely. Water drawn from tubewells damaged my paddy seedlings and now I am not in a position to sow any other crop on my otherwise fertile land,” said Karaj, whose farm is located 5 km from the Sulemanki international border.

Also, Sudhir Kumar, a former sarpanch of nearby Sureshwala Sainiyan village, says about 13-acre land of his family at Kotha Dhangnian has turned infertile due use of contaminated groundwater.

Sudhir complains that 18 acres belonging to his extended family at Surehswala Sainiyan, was also severely affected due to poor quality tubewell water.

“As this border area is located at the tail-end of the eastern canal division, farmers get insufficient canal water supply. Hundreds of acres of land in the region stands affected due to tubewell water,” he said.

Residents of the area rue that Pakistan frequently regulates the drain carrying effluents from entering into its territory. As a result, water emitting foul smell is deteriorating quality of groundwater in the border area.

Manphool Singh, an octogenarian resident of adjoining Karni Kheri village, hopes that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) may soon fix the responsibility of officials and give respite to people over 120 villages living near international border and help farmers in regaining access to good water.

Officials admit that poor functioning of sewage treatment plants run by various local bodies was ignored by the Punjab State Pollution Control Board (PSPCB) and the irrigation department for years.

“The TDS level in the region has hit an alarming level of 4,500. F Coli count was reported as high as 30 times the permissible levels at various places. Cases of water-borne diseases and skin ailments are common in the area,” said Ahuja, who also works with various national and international agencies including, the UN.

“At least 21 drains carry domestic and industrial waste. The state irrigation department is mandated to ensure that no untreated waste goes into the drains. But no corrective measures have been initiated,” he added.

Fazilka deputy commissioner Manpreet Singh Chhatwal, who has been appointed nodal officer by NGT, said a meeting has been called on Tuesday and a detailed reply will be submitted before the tribunal. “Drains are severely contaminated. It will be examined if sewage treatment plants in various places are functional or not,” he said.

Chief environmental engineer of Punjab State Pollution Control Board (PSPCB) Pardeep Gupta evaded a direct reply to a question whether the board ever took pollution samples from the drains or taken any action.

“The matter was brought to our notice for the first time. Since several state departments are involved in it, PSPCB will cooperate in fixing responsibility,” he said.

First Published: Aug 05, 2019 14:38 IST

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