Water Crisis in Punjab

Punjab – the name itself is explanatory and stands for abundance of water. But it is ironic that the land, which is named after five rivers: Ravi, Chenab, Jhelam, Satluj and Beas is endangered to become the land without water that is “Be-Aab” which means without water.

More over the present situation of water resources in Punjab is highly critical. Already by losing her three rivers due to partition of the country, the present Punjab is now the land of mainly two rivers namely Satluj and Beas. Water flow in these rivers is alarming low and is a cause of great worry. The Himalayan glaciers are melting down; the overall flow is decreasing and causing great ecological imbalance in the region. Loss of massive forest cover in Shivaliks is resulting in drying-up of several sub-rivers and natural stream. (Dutt 2004)

As a result, the ground water availability in Punjab is drastically hampered. At present Jayanti, Budki, Siswan the three major tributaries of river Satluj flowing through the district of Ropar have disappeared. They are no more revulates now. It is also the fate of “Patiala Ki Roh” and several other streams originating from shivaliks. “Kali Bein” river has also lost her character as a river (Dutt 2004)

Several major reservoirs such as Sitasar, Ajj Sarovar, Mullanpur Garib Das, Gharian, Pandusar, Raye Tal, Bopa Rai Kalan, Kahan garh Chmirai, Preet Nagar, Ramsar and Laxmansar are in condition of distress. Sangrur city once had four major reservoirs on all four corners of the town, which have vanished. Nabha also lost its famous ‘Hati Khana Talab along with several other ponds in town and adjacent villages.

The village ponds are also dying up day by day. The dumping of garbage and the encroachments are the major threats to these water bodies. The nature is now giving deathbell as more than 80% of Punjab is either turned into ‘Dark Zone’ or Grey zone. Out of the seventeen districts of Punjab, the ground water balance is negative in seven districts. That means these districts are extracting more water than annual net recharge, thus causing deficit water budget. Jalandhar district is one of the worst affected zones in the state. The entire Jalandhar district is under dark zone. It is also the fate of Kapurthala, where all the five clocks are dark; in Sangrur all thirteen blocks are dark. All blocks of Fatehgarh Sahib are dark zone. In Amritsar district out of the seventeen blocks, fourteen are dark zone and other two are grey. The water balance, in eight out of nine blocks in Patiala and in ten out of eleven blocks in Ludhiana is negative (Dutt 2004)

The ground water table in the past twenty years recorded a dangerous decline from 15– 20 feet to 150–200 feet, in some parts of the state. The ruthless over exploitation of water had led to this situation or is it the gift of green revolution. In 1967, Punjab had around 55000 tube wells only, whereas today this figure crosses ten lakh. In the state, the extraction of water has increased by 200 times in the last three decades, whereas recharging ratio has been drastically decreased creating irreversible gap. The white zone areas of Bhatinda, Mansa, Mukatsar,Faridkot and some parts of Ferozpur have problems of salinity and chloride. Nawashahar and Hoshiarpur are reported to have problem of selenium. Several other parts of the state are affected with nitrates in ground water (Dutt 2004)

The gravity of water borne disease was narrated by women during public hearing. The fact was reconfirmed by the visit to Jajjal village in Talwandi Sabo, Bhatinda district. According to Jaspal Singh, there is problem of water logging resulting in the rise of water table and consequently affecting the water quality. In last five years, water table has risen from 80 feet to 300 feet. Doctors have advised the villagers to avoid the water from wells and boil it before use. Dangerous chemicals have mixed with underground water causing widespread incidence of cancer.

Smt Kartar Kaur said “out of the 60 people in Jajjal who have died of cancer, 30 are women, each person spent 4-5 lakh on treatment for which they had to visit Bikaner. Our problems, which are related to water, are acute pains in joints, especially knees, as well as pains in groins. Almost everyone in the village is suffering, we desperately need potable water.”

Another women Smt Balbir Kaur aged 50 years lost her husband, a cotton farmer to cancer a few months. She said for his treatment at Bikaner, the family spent 7 lakhs by selling land; still 12 lakhs of loan has to be paid. Her son has taken up a part time job to supplement his income to repay the loan. She takes painkillers all day long, as knee ache is acute.

Smt Kaur brings drinking water from the water works at Talwandi Sabo, 8 miles away in a bullock cart, which takes about 6 hours, which lasts 4-5 families for 3 days. She also uses water for drinking from the ‘nahar’, but put chlorine tablets in it. “When I came here as a bride 30 years ago, quality of water at 125-150 ft was very good. We used water from wells, but now the water has risen (water logging) and at present it is at 30 ft below surface level” she recalled.

Women of her village desperately need water, the sources of collecting water are too far away. The three sources are the water works at Talwandi Sabo, 8 miles away, ‘nahar’ one mile away hand pumps in peoples’ fields about 2 km away. There are 300 old women in the village and it is very difficult for them to collect water this way.

In villages, where pesticide use is high, health concerns are rising. Water in Bhatinda district is no longer fit for drinking, due to toxity of water. The water in Harkishanpura has been certified unfit for drinking by the government, but every one continues to drink it, as there is no alternative. The water was found to have high concentrates of chloride. Excessive use of pesticides has destroyed the topsoil in many areas, and has crept into the water table, endangering the health of villagers.

According to Ms. Usha Sharma- an advocate in Punjab and Haryana Court, “recently there have been several deaths from village Jajjal and the real figure of unreported deaths from neighboring villages could be much higher. A large number of people are suffering from cancer, kidney failure and ulcers”. She demanded that compensation must be given to those who died due to pollution. Quoting villagers, she said that water has been proven to be the killer in the village. Even though the Panchayat of Jajjal village has been writing to the government to conduct an inquiry to the cause of deaths, the government has taken no action and only turned a deaf ear to the pleas. It is a matter of negligence on the part of the state government.

Taking suo motu notice that polluted drinking water in Jajjal village of Bhatinda district was causing serious “cancer like” disease in the villagers, the Punjab and Haryana High Court issued notice to the state of Punjab through the secretary (Public Health Department), Secretary (Department of Rural Development and Pancyayats), Bhatyinda Deputy Commissioner andf Gram Panchayat of the village, said the honourable judges, “we think that the constitutional safeguards provided in the Constitution prima facie stand breached by the stateof Punjab and its functionaries in relation to the residents of Jajjal village and accordingly issue notice.

One lady kamla spoke during the jansunwai narrated her problem. She said, “for a tanker, the contractor charges Rs. 400 which the poor cannot pay. Sometimes in her area sewage getsd mixed with the water supply. According to Ms. Rajendra Kaur Brar, the water alkaline in her region. Being a rich farmer, I am afford to pay the cost of 3 tankers per week, but the poor farmers cannot affort it. The poor women are buzy throughout the day for collecting water” said Mrs. Brar.



Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal

Of the 214 km Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, 122 km lies in Punjab and 92 km in Haryana. Haryana has completed it in June 1980. The dispute over the construction of SYL canal is over two decades old, with Punjab refusing to comply with previous court judgments. On June 4, 2004 the Supreme Court directed Punjab to complete forth with the remaining section of the canal (Greval 2004)

Subsequently the passing of Punjab Termination of Agreements Bill 2004, has taken the federal structure of India by surprise. The Bill has created an unprecedented constitutional crisis, annulling the very basis on which the Supreme Court had pressured the state to implement the river sharing agreement of 1981.

In a more subtle manner, however, Punjab has warned the protagonists against any move to interlink to country’s rivers. The message is clear “Don’t ask for more water, learn to manage water better” (Sharma 2004)

The Punjab move would deprive Haryana of water to be used for irrigation of 3.5 lakh acres of land. In Rajasthan, the Punjab stand on SYL agreement is likely to affect hundreds of villages for drinking water besides the seven districts including Sriganganagar, Bikaner, Hanumangarh, Jodhpur, Jaiselmer, Churu and Barmer. Around 19 lakh hectares of Rajasthan land in the western sector is irrigated by the Ravi-Beas water. Delhi will also suffer in terms of drinking water crisis. Facing shortage of water due to abrogation of the treaty by Punjab, the Haryana government might stop supply of water into the Yamuna, the main source of raw water for the one crore people in Delhi. (Parvatiyar 2004)

There is a need for new crop management policies. There should be a policy for both crop planning and management at micro level for each agro-climatic zone. This should be done keeping in mind the availability of water in the hydrological basins. Also the marketing strategy for produce of each crop should be planned so that farmers are assured of maximum returns from the produce – seeds should also be made available for the planned crops, again keeping in view the overall availability of water (Singh 2004).

Many actions would be required to be taken both within and among the basins. states to avert the crisis. Supply and demand management aspects have to be analyzed for an effective strategy and to provide a set of concrete solutions. These include adoption of techniques for augmenting water availability such as water conservation and pollution prevention, improving water use efficiency recycling and revise of drainage water. Adopting more intensive water saving technologies, changing crop patterns etc would reduce the demand on water (Menon 2004)

Dispute Over Sutlej – Yamuna Link Canal (SYL Canal)
Chronology of Events:

1976 Centre issues notice under Section 78 of the Punjab Reorganisation Act, 1966, dividing the river waters between Punjab and Haryana.

1978 Akali leader Parkash Singh Badal begins construction of canal in February, but losses steam. Haryana Chief Minister Bhajan Lal moves Supreme Court against go-slow. Punjab relaliates by challenging Section 78 of Reorganisation Act.

1981 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi forces Darbara Singh, Congress Chief Minister of Punjab, to withdraw case. Trilateral agreement gives 4.22 MAF to Punjab, 3.5 MAF to Haryana, 8.6 MAF to Rajasthan, 0.65 MAF to J & K and 0.2 MAF to Delhi.

1982 Indira Gandhi lays foundation stone of the canal at Kapoori village on April 8, 1982. The very next day, Prakash Singh Badal and Sant Harchand Singh Longowal launch Nahar Roko Morcha, later rechristened Dharam Yudh Morcha. Soon the movement snowballs into full-fledged militancy.

1985 Rajive-Longowal accord acknowledges Punjab’s grouses and sets up tribunal to settle the waters issue.

1986 Tribunal rethinks two water shares: Punjab now gets 5 MAF, Haryana 3.83 MAF, The next year unhappy Punjab files review application.

1998 30 labourers shot dead allegedly by Babbar Khalsa militants. Work stops.

1990 Two irrigation department officers working on SYL are shot dead.

1999 Haryana files suit before Supreme Court seeking completion of the canal.

2004 (a) Supreme Court directed the Centre to take up the construction of 122 km Punjab portion of the Sutlej – Yamuna link which Punjab had been refusing to make.

(b) Punjab assembly passed the Punjab Termination of Agreement Act 2004, Which annuls all previous agreements pertaining to the Ravi-Beas waters with Haryana and Rajasthan.

(c) Government seeks the Supreme Court’s advice under Article 143 of the constitution on the Punjab Termination Agreement Act.
(Grewal 2004)





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