World water day: Punjab, land of five rivers, stares at a water crisis

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Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | Published:March 22, 2017 4:27 am

Farmers clean Kotla branch canal in Bathinda. Express

Punjab, known in history as land of five rivers, has been facing a major water crisis because of “fast depleting and polluted underground water and polluted rivers”, which is set to deepen following as the Supreme Court order in favour of starting the construction of Sutlej-Yamuna link (SYL) canal to supply water to Haryana.

According to the Centre Ground Water Board (CGWB), of the 141 agricultural development blocks in Punjab, 102 currently fall in the “dark zone”, where water is 200 feet or deeper. In some of these blocks, prior permission is required to install the household submersible pumps.

Punjab’s efforts to save underground water by bringing in “New Agriculture Policy for State, 2013,” and passing the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act, 2009, failed to make a difference, said Dr Amrik Singh, Agriculture Development Officer in Pathankot.

Dr S S Johal, former vice-chairman of Punjab’s Planning Commission and former vice-chancellor of Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) in Ludhiana, who headed a committee formed in 2000 to improve agriculture, said Punjab was facing underground water crisis which needed to be tackled on priority basis. He said he had submitted some of his suggestions to the earlier government and to Captain Aamrinder Singh to solve the problem.

There is no regulation of underground water in a practical manner, said Padam Shri awardee and environmentalist Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal, who has been a crusader for cleaning polluted water in the state. He said water of all rivers in the state had been polluted due to discharge from dirty sewers and industry water in these.

“If we do not discharge such dirty water in our natural water sources, there would be no need to clean these,” he said, adding that the due to overdose of fertilisers and pesticides, the ground water had also turned polluted in state. “Even our food chain got polluted due to this.”

The third major crisis is staring the state after the SC order that struck down the 2004 Punjab Termination of Agreement Act (PTAA) and ordered Punjab to construct SYL. Experts say over nine lakh acres (around 4 lakh hectares) agricultural land in around half-a-dozen districts of Malwa would be deprived of the “river water” if water through SYL is provided to Haryana. Currently, there is around 105 lakh acres (43.75 hectares) agricultural land in Punjab.

Agricultural experts say Punjab only has 13 MAF (million acre-feet) of water currently while it requires over 20 MAF. “To meet the remaining need, ground water is being sucked through over 15 lakhs tubewells in Punjab,” said another expert from PAU.

Pritam Singh Kumedan, former bureaucrat and and expert on the issue who is also consulted by the Punjab government on its water disputes, said that Haryana already had been getting 1.62 MAF water through the Bhakra canal from the beginning out of total of 3.5 MAF allocated to it under the water-sharing formula. The SYL is required to provide the remaining 1.8 MAF. Rajasthan too is getting around 10 MAF from Punjab through various canals, including the Rajasthan Canal.

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