This published article was sent to me and I reproducing it here on my blog and hope the author has no objections. It’s a very very insightful and important read.


The repeat of devastation of Sindhu Valley Civilization

By Umendra Dutt

About two years ago my friend the famous singer Rabbi Shergill in one of his
Punjabi article says “There is no doubt that it was just because of a major
environmental change that the great civilization of Indus valley had
completely vanished. The same reasons, in the same form are today existed
before us. The only difference between the both situations is this that in
those times it was a natural disaster but this time it is of man made”.

Rabbi equated present situation of Punjab with Sindh valley which destroyed
because of water scarcity.

Rabbi concluded his article by saying ‘Sindh ghaatti aj fir maran nu tyaar
hai’ which means Sindh valley is again prepared to die “Will this really
happen?” I asked my co-passengers “Of course, it is a degrading environment
and a dying civilization in Punjab; a whole community has been put to slow
death” affirmed Dr Amar Singh Azad, my senior colleague in Kheti Virasat
Mission. “It is a crime committed against humanity and nature by our own
governments, that too in the name of Development”, I said, endorsing his
observation. All of us were very upset and angry after visiting villages
near Dhakansu drain and Ghaghar River in Patiala and Sangrur districts.

This was our third visit to a river or drain area to educate ourselves on
environmental toxicity and its multiple impacts. About eight years ago, I
did a padayatra along the Jayanti River in Ropar district. I found several
similarities between the disappearance of Jayanti and Ghaghar rivers. Both
rivers have lost their relevance after society forgot and neglected the
significance of these rivers.
The river eco-system was ruined at both places
by the developmental activities carried out by “modern society”. Our latest
Yatra was a field visit to learn more on the crisis of water, environmental
toxicity, condition of agriculture, biodiversity, the unfolding health
crisis and the socio- economic fallout of this ecological disaster.

The entire picture is extremely frightening. There has been a lot of debate
on the severe health and water tragedy apparent in the districts of Malwa
region. But we should correct our view point – it is the whole of Punjab
that seems to be under deadly devastation now. Some of our well-wishers ask
us again and again that – “Why are you activists bent on such
scare-mongering around these things?” I would like to repeat the words of Dr
Azad here – “Yes, we want to create a scare, because the situation is far
more destructive and scary than our government and people can ever imagine.

It is a life and death question for Punjab; it is clearly evident that
Punjab is a dying civilization.
Several people may find this offending, ugly
and uncalled for. However, the indications that we are getting from across
Punjab point to a death sentence written for the whole eco-system in this
part of the country and particularly for this brave community.

‘Villages up for sale’ are a unique symbol of distress and devastation in
Punjab …..

It was a first-of-its- kind protest in India at that time. In March
2002, Harkishanpura of Bathinda district put itself up for sale and then Mal
Singh Wala of Mansa district followed in 2005. Both of these villages are
situated in cotton belt of Malwa. Both have a common reason — the Water
crisis. It was a desperate step that was taken by the villagers. Now, this
water distress has engulfed the villages of the apparently ‘eco-prosperous’
area of Puadh. A village in Patiala district near Chandigarh – Mirzapur
Sandharsi is contemplating putting itself up for sale. The reason is the
same “waterlessness” that has now become a nightmare for this village too.
After reading reports in the media, we visited this village – what was
bluntly visible and extremely disturbing to find is that Punjab is fast
turning into a waterless region. It can be Harkishanpura, Mandi Khurd or
MalSingh Wala or Teja Rohella, Dona Nanka near Fazilka or Mirzapur Sandharsi
– villages after villages are caught in the grip of a severe water crisis.

There are several indicators to confirm what Dr Amar Singh Azad said about
Punjab being a dying civilization. The disturbing symptoms of this slow
death are common, in a journey from Mirzapur Sandharsi, Harpalpur to Shahpur
Theri and Makrod Sahib in Sangrur. I wondered how accurate is forecast made
by Rabbi Shergill.

The symptoms are: severe, multiple environmental toxicity, drinking water
crisis due to drying-up of upper aquifers and rapid deterioration of the
groundwater situation all over the state, water quality going drastically
down with multiple kinds of contamination, destruction of river eco-systems
and vanishing aquatic life, loss of biodiversity and crop diversity,
increasing health problems particularly those related to reproductive
health, declining immune capacity, early ageing and cancers etc.

Disturbingly, the same pattern of health problems is being found in domestic
animals: farmers repeatedly reported that animals are unable to conceive and
if they conceive they abort frequently. Further, the all-round crisis is
also reflecting itself in agriculture and agricultural livelihoods: falling
agriculture productivity, increase in external inputs and rising debts,
growing disconnect between farmer and his/her land, farmers selling their
farms and lastly, emergence of loss of self- confidence and self-esteem
amongst the affected people to tackle the situation.

I often say in Punjabi that Punjab is fast turning into Be-aab and Punjabis
of Be-aab Punjab are bound to become Be-abaad (displaced). I find that
Mirzapur Sandharsi and nearby villages are an apt illustration for this
idiom. Surinder Singh, Sarpanch of Mirzapur Sandharsi told us, “There is no
proper water; this water crisis has forced us to sell our land. We are ready
to sell even our village”.

As there is no water left in two upper aquifers – at 70 feet and 150 feet
respectively – villagers are facing a lot of hardship to meet even basic
requirement of water. Around ten years back, the 70-feet aquifer began to go
dry and about five years ago, water started disappearing from the 150-feet
aquifer also. “We are forced to increase the lowering by 12 to 20 feet every
year”; told Harbans Singh, Chairman of village Cooperative Society. “When
Ghaghar was alive about 20 year back, there was no such problem. As Ghaghar
died slowly, this water crisis engulfed our area”.

Now villagers are forced to draw water from third aquifer to be found at the
depth of about 400 feet, but unfortunately at many places this aquifer is
having water unfit to even irrigate their farms, so it is of little use.
Even if it is fit for irrigation, it is very costly to draw it and more over
how long will it last. After all it is ‘Fossil Water’. It is going to be
exhausted. What after that? No body is able to answer.

Farmers are able to grow wheat and paddy but with this hard water,
vegetables cannot be grown. It’s very difficult to find anyone growing
vegetables from last ten years in the village. “We forgot the taste of our
own grown vegetables”, said a farmer. This is a common trend in all villages
of this area where purchasing vegetables from cities is common. Earlier,
farmers here used to grow several kinds of vegetables for sale in the market
as well as self-consumption. Now, they don’t cultivate vegetables in several
villages of Ghannour area of Patiala district. Farmers from Harpalpur gave a
more pitiable picture: “Earlier we use to sell our vegetables in Rajpura and
Chandigarh markets; now, because the water quality has deteriorated, we are
not able to cultivate vegetables anymore. Farmers will tell you the same
story in villages like Shahpur Theri, Mandavi, Chandu, Makorad Sahib and
Foold. Everywhere, farmers have turned into buyers of vegetables from being
producers. This is sign of loss of household food and nutritional security.
This has also put an economic burden on them”.

The average wheat yield dropped drastically in the last few years in all
villages we visited. Farmers reported getting yields as low as 5 quintals
per acre of wheat. ‘As groundwater is going deeper and deeper, it is also
losing its quality. This affects crops and their yields often.’ It is a
common perception of farmers from different villages. This has another
impact -manifold increase in usage of chemical fertilizers, making
agriculture more expensive now. All of this makes the farm economics
unviable, with farmers becoming more indebted. Almost all the agricultural
land here is mortgaged! “We were happy and prosperous those days, using
Ghaghar water and getting higher yields in comparison to today. We used to
grow Basmati about 15- 20 years back with very less water from Ghaghar and
used to obtain 16 to 20 quintals per acre, 14 to 16 quintals of wheat and
even 10 to 12 quintals of pulses. We had these results without using any
Urea in our fields.” said Gyani Subeg Singh, a 70-year old farmer from
village Shahpur Their.

Loss of agro-biodiversity is another issue of concern. It was found that in
the last 20 years, there has been a drastic loss in agro-biodiversity.
Earlier, most of farmers used to grow pulses. Slowly, as yields started
declining, they stopped producing pulses. It was found that earlier,
diversity-based farming was the main approach. Farmers grew Corn, Basmati,
Cotton, Sugarcane, Wheat, Mustard, Pearl Millet, Barley, Pigeonpea, Moong,
Masar, Moth, Alsi, Til, Tara-Mira, Gwara, Arhar and Chilies.

Farmers reported that all these crops were grown without any chemical inputs
simply by irrigating their farms with Ghaghar water. But as Ghaghar has gone
dry, the biodiverse farming system which flourished here for hundred of
years also dried up. Farmers’ real wealth – water and soil – was plundered.

This has also eroded traditional knowledge system of farming in this area.
Now farmers are using high amount of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and
weedicides. They are now so obsessed with chemical farming that they lost
self confidence. “We cannot grow any thing without chemicals. We know it is
poison – but we have no other alternative” said Jaswant Singh of Shahpur
Theri, while preparing to apply chemical fertilizers in his farm.

When asked about debt situation, Harvinder Singh, Youth Club President of
Shahpur Theri says with grief, “Death of Ghaghar has destroyed both our
wealth and health. Now, the entire village is under debt. Not a single acre
of land is free from loan. Several farmers were forced to sell their farm
land. About 35 to 40 people sold their entire property and shifted out of
the village. Several farmers are now working as landless laborers”.

This situation is reminiscent of my earlier experience in Mirzapur Sandharsi
and Harpalpur. In these villages, a large number of farmers had already sold
their land. When I asked farmers at Harpalpur in Patiala what they thought
of Mirzapur Sandharsi villagers putting up their village for sale, more than
three farmers replied at once in a collective voice – “We are also ready to
sell our village.” Then one farmer added “Why talk about only these two
villages – the whole belt of around 40 villages is up for sale though we are
not declaring it openly. But if we get a chance, we are all ready to quit
agriculture and move out of here”. Everyone sitting there supported his
views. These farmers no more feel any attachment to their village. Sadly,
the cord of affinity with their land no longer exists.

The most painful experience we have had in this tour is that of the murder
of a river and her bounties. It was the case of entire society breaking away
from its water heritage.
Everybody whom we met during our visit told us –
“Once Ghaghar River used to be full of life and we used to drink Ghaghar
water about 20 years back – it used to be clear, sweet and tasty”. Vaid
Piyara Singh (55) of Makrodr Sahib said with unshed tears in his eyes:
“Ghaghar was clean and the whole village used to drink its water; I used to
drink Ghaghar water almost every day while returning from fields – I never
experienced any problem with that – that was about 20 years back”.

In village Phoolad, which is just 300 meters from Ghaghar we got to know
that except two young men, all the persons sitting in front of us had once
been able to drink directly from the river.

“Fish from Ghagar used to be quite famous once upon a time; people used to
come from far away to purchase fish here. Thousands of fish of different
species, small and big tortoises and so on used to be present in large
numbers in Ghaghar. Ghaghar died right in front of our eyes”, said Kulwant
Singh (52) of Makrodr Sahib with visible grief on his face.

In adjoining Chandu village, all households used to irrigate their farms
from Ghaghar water, but now they are forced to look for other options.
“Earlier our animals would go there for grazing, bathing and drinking
Ghaghar water, but now we cannot even think of it. It is acid only.” said
Vaid Subhash (37).

The entire belt of villages on the bank of Ghaghar in Sangrur district was
using Ghaghar water not only for irrigation but also for domestic usage.
Some people also pointed out that the river bed had several springs like
Nadiya Taal from where they got water throughout the year. There were large
numbers of Dhaak and Dhaki trees, Jand, Kiker, and bushes of Duaansa. This
indicates that along with destruction of Ghaghar the native plants and trees
also got ruined.

“In those days, several species of birds were found; now we hardly see even
common birds like the crow or the sparrow. They are all gone”. We heard this
almost everywhere that we went. Many report that the number of birds in this
area has gone down. Dr Azad kept muttering that this is our Silent Spring
unfolding in Punjab. I am speechless since the picture emerging in front of
us was a hopeless picture of doom.

In every village we had also enquired about existence of honeybees and
earthworms and unfortunately got the similar answer indicating more vast
destruction of life – ‘Now honeybees and earthworms are almost gone, we
hardly see any hive around our villages’ villagers told us. Every time when
we got negative answer about presence of honeybees, Dr Azad reminds me
famous prediction of Albert Einstein, “If the bee disappears from the
surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

Like earthworms and honeybees several other insects were thrown out of web
of life. And the younger generation of farmers even does not know the names
of several friendly-insects.

In spite of floods every year, Ghaghar was generous with life and
prosperity. Now it appears that hell is flowing here and villagers are
forced to live with the situation. They reported that Ghaghar got polluted
some years back with toxic effluents from a factory at Main near Patiala and
Chambowali drain which joins Ghaghar at Chandu village. The water is black,
with bad smell and with no life at all. The water, if touched, produces
irritation, itching and skin rashes, it was explained. We do not even dare
to touch it where we used to earlier be able to drink the water, they said.

Punjab is going to be a state of sick people highly dependent on medicines”,
Dr Azad keeps saying again and again. His words were reinforced during this
tour as we had personally witnessed a massive health crisis all around. What
we have witnessed during this study visit has reaffirmed our earlier
hypothesis that Punjab is being subjected to multiple environmental
toxicity. Every village we had visited illustrates the same tragedy.

As Dr Azad often says, “The whole ecosystem of the earth is interwoven in a
web of highly sensitive and complex interdependence; any toxin in the
environment – air, water and soil – affects all forms of life right from the
microbes to human beings. Wherever toxicity is high, humans, cattle, wild
animals, other living forms including microbes and plants are gravely
affected. Punjab today is witnessing the whole spectrum of ill effects on
human health shown through various studies, of such contamination. The
immunity of Punjabis is being ruthlessly damaged”.

In each village we visited, people reeled out high numbers of cancer deaths
in addition to a long list of cancer patients under medication. What we got
from villagers is shocking data regarding cancers, raising infertility and
other reproductive health disorders, increasing number of neurological
disorders, allergies and impaired immunity. As farmers gave this information
to us while sitting in front of us by recalling names, the possibility of
errors must certainly be there; however, this is an indicator that cancer is
on the rise while reproductive health is deteriorating fast, that too in all
parts of Punjab. We found quite a large number of issueless couples, cases
of miscarriages, spontaneous abortions and premature deliveries; in each
village, we also found cases of neurological disorders Children with mental
retardation and congenital abnormalities, cerebral palsy, autism, ADHD, ADD,
learning and behavioral disabilities and so on were identified. It is hard
to believe that the list of illnesses is much longer then we thought.

Skin diseases are also very common in all villages; Dr Azad points out that
this is a sign of impaired immune system in people of Punjab. We also found
large number of patients with kidney problems, stones in kidney and gall
bladder, digestive system disorders etc.

This starkly visible disease pattern can be correlated to the toxicity load
caused by environmental toxicity and prevalence of toxins in our eco-system
and food chain. During group discussions, it was also noticed that number of
young deaths in last ten years is on the rise. Though it may be because of
other reasons too, a young death is an indicator that something is seriously
wrong in Punjab.

Poisoning of ecology has a deep impact on animal health as well. The status
of animal health in these parts seems to indicate that the toxicity
everywhere has reached its threshold level. People reported that apart from
human beings, cows and buffalos are also losing reproduction capacity. They
observe lesser lactation period and lesser reproduction cycles. It has come
down to 5 from 15 reproduction cycles. More and more cows and buffalos are
becoming sterile. These animals are unable to conceive and miscarriages and
abortions are increasing amongst these animals. At least 70% animals have
become unproductive and sterile, people reported. Their milk productivity is
also going down. Moreover, even horses are reported to be getting sterile.
Some farmers observe that desi hens are not able to lay eggs properly.

When the villages had pasture lands, the animals used to give more milk,
they recall; now, the animals are falling sick and dying. These animals
cannot go to Ghagar now and farmers have to run pumps for water, which adds
to the financial burden of the families. “We are ruined due to the poisonous
water that was allowed to flow in Ghaghar”, they say.

But question is – who is responsible for this ecological destruction? How
are we going to restore justice to river Ghaghar, her inhabitants and
Nature? Who is to be blamed for subjecting this whole area to this severe
environmental health crisis? What has killed River Ghaghar and its thousands
of animals, fishes, tortoises, birds and other creatures?

The answer is very simple – our Development model obsessed with high GDP.
The factories of liquor and wine at Banaur, Patiala and Patran have
contributed to the death of Ghaghar. The owners of these factories, their
management, the government departments which gave clearances for the
establishment and running of these factories, the officers with whose
signatures these factories came into existence, the Punjab Pollution Control
Board which is primarily responsible for monitoring and controlling
pollution and effluents, the Revenue department and Directorate of excise
and taxes, the Finance Ministry of Punjab which is filling its pockets from
taxes on these factories thus giving them a legal status and lastly, the
people who remain silent and indifferent during this demolition are
responsible for the death of a river and her ecosystem, the destruction of
health and environment here and for the displacement of farmers. These are
environmental criminals who need to be held liable. Punjab needs a people’s
movement to take up the issue of life of our rivers and to keep alive
Punjabi civilization. By giving a rousing call to the public, Sant Balbir
Singh Seenchewal has already taken an initiative in this direction. But we
have still a long way to go.

Moreover , After confirmation of presence of uranium traces in hair samples
of children from Baba Farid Centre for Special Children and water and soil
samples it is certain that Punjab is in midst of multiple environmental
toxicity. This is an indicator that it is situation of extreme emergency in
Punjab. Let us start talking the political ecology. Let people start
thinking politically to punish the environmental culprits of Punjab. We have
to evolve newer ways to punish those who are responsible for this
devastation. Though, I also found that I was also one of the culprits, even
several of us those who are now fighting for environment were not behaved in
responsible manner earlier, otherwise situation would have been different. I
feel we are also blameworthy and I am firm that all those who are guilty
must be punished

My friend and the person who is carving my understanding on ecological
issues, Prof. Shubh Prem Brar from Bathinda has rightly said, “Southern
Punjab is surrounded by toxic water ways. It is as though a garland of
poisonous water is encircling a large area of Punjab”. If you see the map of
Punjab, you can see the absolutely terrifying picture of poisonous water
encircling entire south, south-eastern and south-western region of Punjab. I
ask further – Is it possible to change this death wreath into a life jacket?
Can we stop our civilization from dying?

I am waiting for an answer…the 63-year old young revolutionary Dr Azad is
equally eager to know this answer, as he constantly says “Punjab is a dying
civilization and time is running out of our hands.” None of us want Punjab
to die, do we?

(Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission; a Jaitu based a
civil society ecological action group working on natural farming and
environmental health. Contacts: Phones: 09872682161)

Umendra Dutt, Executive Director, Kheti Virasat Mission


JAITU,District- FARIDKOT- 151202


Phone:01635 – 503415, Mobile -9872682161

24 thoughts on “Punjab: A DYING CIVILISATION?

  1. Extremely shocking and mind blowing situation not only in Punjab but in whole India. This is not the problem of Punjab alone, this ia a cry of all the farmers of India who are helpless to save the farms from the greed of industrialists and the State Governments.
    God save the country…!

  2. Thanks Shekhar. Seems right from dying of rivers to bursting open of oil wells in seas ‘paani’ is somehow caling for our attention. I wonder if next will be air itself if we dont pay any heed to the call of water.

    Incidently I am from the center of this area i.e., from Muktsar, Punjab and so often read articles of this type especiially regarding spread of cancer in this belt.

  3. I am shocked to read this account of grim reality. It kind of explains the blatant and vulgar use of resources and their consequences in form of sickness, pollution and disappearance of wild life. I still recall that around 15 years back, I could see flock of birds in the sky. And now for my son, it is a rare sight. Near cities, only pigeons are visible and I am yet to spot sparrows.

    Painfully, I don’t see this deterioration stopping or slowing in near future. As we write I believe a ‘lot of politicians’ has gone to Scotland to study manufacture of scotch.

  4. This is unnerving and a sad state of affairs….as someone who grew up in the lushness & abundance of Punjab the current conditions add to a sense of anger (at the authorities, apathy of the people & ‘all is well’ mentality!) and helplessness within me. After a gap of 2 years when I visited Punjab a few months ago, I was appalled by the backwardness that has seeped into this once rich & prosperous state. Infrastructure projects have been stalled, increasing poverty & the unemployment amongst the youth has added to the desperation to flee to foreign lands! The deterioration of the state has been
    exponential in the last five years and the political climate in Punjab hasn’t helped things.
    I hope I can contribute in some way to raising awareness about these issues and helping the people of Punjab.

  5. Resemblance :

    My town river water is so polluted that the Marine life tries to jump out of the polluted water for life and poor soul dies on the shore.
    the source of such pollution of river water is Industrial Refuse of Asia’s highly polluted area/Untreated Effluent thrown in the river/ Corrupt Executive of Pollution Control Committee, bribed by these Industrial Vultures on Weekly basis @ INR 3 Crore


  6. Shekhar this is very heart churning and I cannot stop the tears rolling out of my eyes.
    It is also scaring at the same time; this is one whole state going in to turmoil or might other states are even facing these deadly threats, slowly step by step. Mumbai is more exposed to almost all impurities; now I could imagine all this will happen very fast will not even have time to stop this.

    I request you to publish this blog on wide basis so that everyone get to know about this, and will behave responsibly.

  7. As an Architecture student, we read and constantly talked about these environmental issues. My college also started a masters in environmental issues … these students have taken up live case studies and have been researching and designing solutions. They also presented these, to the government planning committees. Schools like CEPT and many urban institutes are also striving hard to do the research and present them. Thus I believe that there are lots of people trying their best to find solutions and are ready to work… They do not care about money. But unfortunately, It all comes down to the implementation and how our government works. I know to little but hope that there is a way to change the manner in which government commences works.

    All I have is hope, I also believe that there are good and sensitive people in the country.

  8. Everything is for the greater good. The only constant is change, and the change often comes in the guise of rude awakenings. Ultimately, the lesson for all involved is to detach from this Maya, and reverse the flow of their mind inwards..water scarcity is also part of this process. The lessons are quite intense in this day and age.
    Maybe all this scarcity will be addressed by an abundance of water in the form of pralaya, a cleansing by water..who knows.

  9. Good thing you are doing……………………Keep on writing………………..best of luck……………..

  10. Walter Knight
    I completely agree with you. A sewer treatment plant, A water pump and filtration system to make clean drinking water available to the whole village.
    I run a small non-profit organization and would like to know if there are other folks interested in forming a larger organization to save our Punjab? If anyone is interested, please write back to my email at sukieuppal@gujri.org. And please visit http://gujri.org to learn more about this small non-profit.
    Thank you
    Sukie Uppal

  11. Water scarcity is a global, imminent threat, with most water sources drying up or facing contamination. The highest at risk is groundwater, the easy access to which results in massive exploitation. Excessive boring of water results in drying up of aquifers, thereby disturbing the entire water cycle. Agriculture is the biggest user, with 70% of net global water usage being attributed to it. It is hence the worst hit area due to water scarcity.

  12. “As Dr Azad often says, The whole ecosystem of the earth is interwoven in a
    web of highly sensitive and complex interdependence; any toxin in the
    environment air, water and soil affects all forms of life right from the
    microbes to human beings… ” ”

    The only way to put an end to this imbalance is to stop unnecessary water boring. The most significant eg of this is boring for bottled water. It takes three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water!
    The plastics used for packaging create a further environmental and health hazard. Plastics leach chemicals like BEP, antimony and pthalates into the water they contain, and post disposal, into the surround environment. These chemicals are linked to cancer, cardiovascular and liver toxicity, ADHD, respiratory and skin irritation. Pthalates are endocrine disruptors that mimic the female hormone estrogen resulting in increased incidence of menstrual problems and miscarriage.
    All this for a product being sold, that is now a fundamental human right!

    For more info plz visit:
    or follow https://twitter.com/No2BottledWater
    or join http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=319634604067&ref=ts

  13. Dear Shekhar

    The fight is not between “Natural” Vs. “Artificial” ways of life/agriculture as it may sound to an unthinking reader.

    Agriculture (like domestication of animals) is and has always been artificial. Natural was hunter gatherer’s society.

    The fight is between “Long term sustainable artificial” Vs “Short term sustainable artificial”

    And at times, in fact many times, people and government focus on immediate problems rather then long term. As J M Keynes said, in long run seas are calm but it is in short run that you have to live and survive thru storm. Our “Short term sustainable artificial” ways of agriculture are response to more pressing problems. when “Long term sustainable artificial” becomes answer to more pressing issues, ways will be mended.

    If Saraswati dries out, Ganges will become holy most river. Life goes on. Arya-dharma will become Hindu-ism. It is true that there will be Mahabharat of some sort when Saraswati dries, but then that is life!

    Keyur Joshi

  14. I am shocked, grieved and speechless. Sangrur is our native village. I have been there many times thru my growing years. I remember it as a lush green fertile land with farms swishing healthily till the eye could see! Water flowed pure like strt from the Himalayas-sparkling in its canals! I have drank strt from farm pumps and not been sick. This picture articulated here stuns me! This is devastation! And no one talks abt it! How horrific!:(

    Am right away going to tweet this so that more people can become aware of it. Can I do anything thru our work stream to help make a difference Shekhar/Mr Azad? Eager to help.

  15. jayanti and ghaggar rivers are seasonal rivers. they have been drying up every year for centuries! the main rivers like sutlej, ravi and beas are not drying up. so not much to worry.

    but the falling ground water is a major problem and surely a matter of concern. thanks for bringing this to attention. nice article. liked it.

  16. and an interesting fact: ghaggar is one of the few rivers in the world that doesn’t drain into the sea or join any major river. it gets soaked up by land, mostly in the dry areas of punjab and rajasthan.

  17. we should make efforts to save not only punjab but whole india, but start frm our home town.

  18. Mitigating Water crisis in Punjab: Empowering Society with water vision
    By Umendra Dutt
    The impending water crisis in Punjab has not only eclipsed its agriculture and economy but also ruined the ecology, health, life style and social fabric of the state. It has severely destroyed the water heritage and cultural value system also. One can find hundreds of examples across the state in this regard. The stress and strain due to water crisis is taking the Punjab into unending series of suicides. Recently a farmer Mohinder Singh and three of his family members has consumed pesticide in Khiyali village near Raikot owing debt accumulated over the years, and three of them died one after one. The water woes continued to hunt this family. There is no source of canal water for this area and further poor quality of ground water at depth of 100 feets pushed Mohinder Singh into debt trap and subsequently forced him to commit suicide. Water-suicides are emerging as a new social crisis in this prospers state.
    We are on cross roads; we have to drive Punjab out of this devastation. Conserving water is like conserving life. But how this will happen? Who has to take initiative? And why the Punjabi society has become so ignorant about water? How the sacred relation between water and society has being lost? These questions have to be answered before evolving any conservation strategy and action plan. The civil society has to be recognized as the rightful custodian of water and its involvement for a larger role is must for the success of this rescue mission. The crisis has to be tackled holistically. The vision, the approach, the strategy and action has to be holistic. Man had taken control of whole of water resources and this control is absolute, it displaces other creatures and their natural right over water, this is a brutal attempt. It is an injustice to other forms of nature. This may ultimately lead to the destruction of human civilization.
    We inherit the water tradition which was de-centralized and managed by community, the stakeholders their selves. Each community has its own water-order .That treats water as an integral part of nature not mere a resource used to meet ever increasing human demands. This water-order reflects in our social customs, traditions, beliefs and knowledge systems. It was so interwoven in a multi-fabric structure that it symbiosis with very identity of the society. Environmental justice to all living beings and sustainability are the foundations of this water-order. It covers all aspects of environmental, agricultural and economic sustainability along with social and cultural security. This water-order has an inbuilt institution of water conservation and enforcing water laws. It also defines our relation with water. Unfortunately, Punjab has lost its inherited water-order.
    The water is creation of God; it is a gift of Mother Nature. It is sacred, divine, pious, sanctimonious and godly. Water is known for its intrinsic quality to purify every thing that comes in its contact. But we had made it most polluted, contaminated and even toxic substance. It is a sin and we have to pay the price for this. Our every holy place has a water body as an integrated and indispensable part. This signifies our own water vision. Water is for all, the every living creature on the earth has its water-right. Water belongs to nature, the rivers and the oceans. Man had only misappropriated it. We can take the water from Mother Nature as a child gets her or his feed from mother. We can draw water from nature but can not exploit it.
    Then what could be the way-out for Punjab. How could we save water without proper water policy, a conservation strategy and action plan? What is water vision of Punjab and what Punjab government follows? Interestingly Punjab has no state water policy as of now. In 2004 a draft water policy was circulated with in governmental circles only and it is still not more than a draft. Ironically, there is no space for community initiative and participation in the proposed draft policy frame work.
    To begin with, let the people of Punjab have a water budget. As we manage our finances by budgeting, the water has to be budgeted too. It has to be done on various scales, such as – individual, village, block, district, town, geo-climatic sub-zone, river basins and then entire state, then sectoral levels like agriculture, industry and domestic supply. This water budgeting shall be based on equity, sustainability and harmony with nature along with social and environmental justice. We have to think about sustainable consumption pattern also. Gandhiji has said that earth has enough to fulfill everyone’s needs but not for their greed. There is no limitation to consumption, if there is no budgeting. We are going on increasing water supply but there will be a limit, how far we can go? A systematic effort to reduce the man’s demand of water is earnestly required. Western approach to consumption as happiness is like ever walking without ending according to Tagore. Can the people of Punjab think on this aspect? We have to identify potentially unnecessary consumption demands of man; we have to differentiate between need and demand by greed.
    Water should be available to each one, without any discrimination and hassle. The systems imposed by new economic-order of globalization by World Bank and international funding agencies, will certainly left no scope for this inter-dependent life systems of shared and community governance. The new water pricing policy is going to rout our social systems too. The drinking water can not be and should not be controlled by the market forces. We have to prioritize the water supply according to social and environmental justice and made the pricing system based on these. Drinking water is very basic human right and government has to ensure that the public stand post must work. First the community institutions were dismantled, the colonial regime has taken over entire control and it was continued even after independence and now GOI, Planning Commission along with World Bank is talking about community management. Now government proposed to hand over water supply to PRIs, but it will certainly not work. The society that has lost its capacity, its water vision and water-order could not manage its resources on its own. It was made handicap for colonial interests and we did not rectify this after independence. Earlier the society was striped of its sense of relation with water and now all of sudden the government wants them to manage.
    Eminent environmentalist and Water Guru Anupam Mishra question this new fond love for new participatory concepts like Joint Forest Management and others. He said,” let the rulers and planners clear, who had made management of our land, water and forest ‘solo’ first? Our society had shared management system since time immemorial”. When state institution failed in managing the things then only they had started for community participation. But things do not work like this, society has to be empowered first, it needs to go through a capacity building process to reinstall its own water–order.
    When a society loses its water vision and heritage it is bound to plunge into water devastation. The resource intensive development technology has converted the water into a commodity – only a consumer good. When there is no well defined relation then how society could move to conserve water. So, Punjabi society has to re-trace its relations with water. Water is considered and regarded as father by our Gurus – pawan guru, pani pita, mata dharat mahat. Is it like that now? We call rivers as Mother but do we treat them like that? It is degeneration of our water-order. A sincere introspection by entire community and institution is urgently needed in this.
    We have to clear certain more things. If we want to conserve water then, what are the requirements of Punjab? Is it technology, Money, Guidance by developmental professionals and scientists from departments and Agriculture University or directions by World Bank? Punjab must look the other community initiatives, who have set examples by evolving their water-order and social discipline, to find answers for its problems. In Punjab also, Sant Balbir Singh Senchewal has shown the way with his great work on holy Kali Bein rivulet, but the entire governmental, bureaucratic and technocratic system is still lacking the vision and things are not moving in required pace. Because the present developmental paradigm is not native to Punjab and its people, we are still over taken by European motives and methods by forgetting the spirit with in our society. That is why our actions are poor in will, feeble in form and ineffective in results as they does not come from our own roots.
    The initiatives of Tarun Bharat Sangh –TBS led by Magsaysay award winner Rajinder Singh in the district of Alwar and Laporia Navyuvak Vikas Mandal – LNVM led by water worrier Laxman Singh in Jaipur district, are two exemplary success stories from Rajasthan. With much less rain fall as compare to Punjab the villagers of these areas become self-sufficient in water without any help from government, without any technical assistance from governmental department or agriculture university. They had retraces their water-heritage, reenact water-order and made the community the real custodian of water. TBS has revived the six small rivers in that region; it is for the first time that a declared dark zone is converted into white zone and that too by the community work based on traditional knowledge. Then there is another example of Doodhatoli Lok Vikas Sangthan situated in village Ufferankhal of Pouri Garwal of Uttarakhand state, where the people’s toil brings the lost forest cover back. It was not only forest cover, but the entire biodiversity and wild life has a magnificent come back. The high mountain springs drayed due to deforestation and soil erosion once again become alive and perennial. These all three places have one thing in common that is the initiative of community to formulate a strict water-order, social- discipline and urge for sacrifice. Punjab needs to learn from communities and villagers of these places and adopt their experiences in accordance with its own conditions, eco-system, culture and heritage. It is people’s wisdom and their institutions that will sustain and show the path for future generations.
    Punjab doesn’t need technology, guidance by World Bank or developmental professionals; it needs only its water-order and water-vision. Just empower the society with these it will do the things on its own.
    (Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission. Jaitu, Faridkot district based environmental civil society action group in Punjab. Phone: 9872682161, E-mail: umendradutt@gmail.com)

  19. Water Crisis and Water Chaos in Punjab

    By Umendra Dutt

    From last few years Punjab has been declared as the over all best state in the country by India Today. It is good to have a prize for Punjab and state government has immediately taken this as an opportunity to have publicity campaign for its achievement. But there is another side of the picture also which shows doom, distress and destruction is fast engulfing this land of five waters. It is a Water-Chaos in the Punjab.

    We can see farmers committing suicides due to failure of pumps, neighbors in farms killing each other over the quarrel for irrigation water, Women are bound to fetch water on their head from as far as 3 kms, and a vast majority of people have no option other then to drink sub-human water. We can see long queues around certain hand pumps adjacent to canals for potable water; we can find farmers fetching water on trolleys, bullock carts, jeeps, and village made jeep-the jogards, motor bikes and bicycles in several villages.

    The situation is more pity in southern districts of state in Malwa region, but situation is fast becoming all most same in entire Punjab. There are news of public demonstrations, road-blocks, dharnas and civil unrest on the issue of water. Students boycotting the classes and even an engineering collage near Malout have forced to declare vacations for three days as there is no water supply to the institute in April 2006. Students at ITI Moga went on strike to protest against non-availability of drinking water.
    The water crisis is so vast that it had engulfed every nook and corner of the state. You can find farmers demonstrating in Talwandi Sabo, Pathankot, Fazilka, Malout, Muktsar, Hoshiarpur and Garhshankar. Then there are demonstrations by urban people at Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, and list is end less.

    Water scarcity had impacted daily lives and routine of Punjab peoples. They have to spend time and money to bring water from safe sources. Residents of Talwandi Bhai and Mudki towns in Ferozepur are compelled to drink un-potable water and if they wished to drink near potable water they had to travel as far 8 KMs to fetch the same. In Talwandi Sabo block also villagers in some of adjoining villages has to bring water from as far as 10 KMs. In Malsingh Wala village one could see peoples toeing water not only to drink, but also for bath and for their animals. It is 100% water importing village. Malsingh Wala has already declared itself as ‘village for sale’. Even earlier village Harkishanpura which was first village to put itself on sale has also severe water problem. There is no water for irrigation neither for drinking. The water crisis made village insolvent and compelled villagers to put village on sale. The situation is almost same in whole of Malwa region. The severe water crisis is also becoming a social stigma upon some villages. It is tough to find bride for village youths as no body wants to marry his/her daughter to these villages.
    Water crisis is so pitiable that village Buladewala with population of 6000 is getting water from 2 hand pumps only. Situation is so grim that in urban and sub-urban areas people are forced to install expensive submersible pumps to fetch water. More is the depth more it costs on drilling and then it needs further higher capacity motor to fetch water and more power bill; it is unending process now in most parts of the Punjab.
    Even villagers’ drinking water from sub-human system has no other option left “It is better to drink unfit water then die of thirst- says Barjinder Singh a farmer from village Malsingh wala.
    The water crisis is fast deepening in Malwa that public anguish is raising all around. About three dozen villages of Talwandi Sabo had already declared to boycott the coming assembly elections in the state to mark the protest against non-availability of water.
    Potable water is latterly become a saleable good even in villages. Villagers at Tarkhanwala, Shekhu, Check Hira Singh and Bagha in district Sangrur are forced to purchase water at Rs 150/- per trolley from neighboring Haryana village Tigri. Even in Malsingh Wala and other adjoining villages villagers have to pay for diesel to the trolley owner to get water regular. It is irony that water is selling in that very land which has abundance water resources once and it is more tragic that this commercialization of water is done not by any company it is being commercialized by villagers themselves. This is erosion of value-system related to water.

    It is new trend that now farmers in Punjab are committing suicide as their tube wells are going dry. As water level is going down drastically day by day the farmers are forced to spend money to get water from new depth. In some of areas this is very common phenomenon. This also adds more debt burden on Punjabi farmers. Here are few examples:
    Khushpal Singh (42) a small farmer of village Gajewas in Patiala district, committed suicide in June 2005 as he failed to get the bore re-installed after drastic fall in water levels. Already he had piled up debts and when he could not raise money to get the bore-well workable again he consumed pesticide. Another young farmer of same village Baljinder Singh (23) found dead on his farm. He faced similar situation and when he could not sow paddy as his tube-well became absolutely redundant. His mother describes the situation” we didn’t have the money to reinstall it and couldn’t sow paddy, our only means of existence. He lost all hope.”
    Re-digging a bore and making it operational cost about Rs 1 lakh, which is not possible for a marginal or small farmer to afford. Same is story of Mal Singh Wala village where Makhan Singh (35) committed suicide due to debt burden accumulated over the years as he has taken loan for re-digging. There is more tragic and sad story of Sukhchain Singh and Jinder Singh both brothers in their thirties and sons of Labh Singh a small farmer of Lehel Kalan village near Lehragaga in Sangrur district. Both had committed suicide one after one as their tube-well has been failed. They are unable to pay back loan taken for re-digging and the tube-well again went dry, forcing them to end their lives.
    Taking water out of deep aquifers is really becoming costly affair some body has paying its price by his life and it is no other then the poor labours. This is another deadly aspect of re-digging. Every year here are about hundred incidents in which labour, masons and mechanics working to dig deep tube-well die due to collapse of well. The poor labours lost their lives as water level has dipped to the new depths. These incidents are rising every year.

    A large number of farmers suicides taken place in Malwa region were some how related to water crisis, either re-digging and re-installing and high operational cost or bad quality of water leads to decline in crop productivity.
    Sorrow saga did not end here after water related suicides now we have to face murders. One farmer Sarabjeet Singh was killed by his neighbor after an altercation and sudden provocation over drawing irrigation water in village Butala in Amritsar district. One could find hundreds of news regarding altercation, tension and man handling across the Punjab over the water for irrigation, particularly during the paddy season. These instances are the indictor of social crisis knocking the door of Punjab.
    Now there is growing demand for more canal water in Central and North Punjab districts in Majha and Doaba regions for irrigation. Even few farmers have started debating on riparian rights among the various districts of Punjab. This is really a bad news for Punjab. With ever increasing demand of irrigation water and with drastic receding ground water levels the problem is fast becoming very serious crisis.

    This crisis further compounds as dark zones are rapidly increasing in Punjab. The Green revolution agriculture system based on greed, exploitation and misappropriation of nature has enhanced the human lust for squeezing the Mother Nature and her resources. It has broken the mother-son relation of farmer and earth resulting ruthless use – misuse of earth resources. In 1970-71 there were only 1.92 lakh Tube wells in Punjab, in 80-81 there were 6 lakh tube wells, and in 90-91 number went up to 8 lakh, 2000-01 again number rises upto 10 lakh and now there are about 14 lakh tube wells. This has resulted in making districts after districts dark zone – the highly over exploited area. Entire fertile region of central Punjab is dark zone now plunging the state into unimaginable ecological catastrophe. After any area declared as dark zone no new tube well is allowed, but one can find hundred of drilling machines working in dark zones.
    In 1984 there were 53 blocks as dark zones, in 1995 they were 84 and in 2005 the figure went up to 108 out of total 138 development blocks in Punjab. Ground water level falling much faster then assumed. In 1973 only 3% area of Punjab has water table below 10 meters, it goes up to 14.9% in 1989, 20% in 1992, and 28% in 1997, 53% in 2000, 76% in 2002 and in 2004 the situation goes beyond expectations when 90% area of Punjab is drawing water from the depth of more then 10 meters. More over 30% area of Punjab has depth of 20 meters or even more.
    On the contrary the Punjab has lost its most of natural systems of ground water recharging in last two decades. The natural wetlands of Punjab were almost disappears and so is the condition of village ponds. Ponds are encroached, filled and used as farm or building was constructed on its land. Thus disturbing the eco-system and jeopardizing the natural recharging of aquifers. This mind less destruction of ponds was done under very government patronage. Knowingly or un-knowingly who so ever they are, are environmental criminals who pushed the future generations of Punjab into sorrow saga of distress, death, destruction and displacement.
    The great Bhupindra Sagar Lake in Sangrur district, which was once known as favorite hunting spot of Maharaja Bhupindra Singh of Patiala, is totally vanished. The mighty Bhupindra Sagar was once spread over the area of 1280 Hectares. The list of disappeared wetlands is an indication of devastation, which is knocking the door of Punjab. Few of destructed wetlands are Chhangli Chhamb – 1000 Ha, Chhangli Tabo-140 Ha, Chhamb Gurditwala -100 Ha in Ferozpur district. Then Sangeri 41 Ha in Mansa, Sharmkot -12 Ha in Gurdaspur, Gaunspur Chhamb -100 Ha, Jandwal Chhamb both in Hoshiarpur-100 Ha, Rahon Chhamb 300 Ha in Nawanshahar. The one of major wetlands in Punjab “Tarkiana” wetland near Dasuha, is no more on ground, it remains only on papers. Other wetlands as Jasterwal, Khanuwan, Lobana (near Nabha), Mand Bharthala, Rababsar and Bareta are the worst victims of man-made disaster and ignorance. This is the common fate of all natural wetlands of Punjab. But, man-made wetlands are also facing almost similar threats.
    Apart from this the several major reservoirs such as Sitasar (Sunam), Ajj Sarovar (Kharar), Mullanpur GaribDass, Gharian, Pandusar (Dasuha), RajeTal, Bopa Rai Kalan, Kahangarh, Chamunda Devi, Thand Kasel, Attariwala, Batala, Gurdaspur, Bhagna, Fethgarh Churrien, Chmiari, Preet Nagar, Ramsar, Lakshmansar (Amritsar) are in condition of distress. Several among these have marvelous architectural design with splendor beauty, but now only ruin remains. Most of these ponds are situated in Amritsar district. One can see the tradition of constructing ponds in Punjab through the windows of Ghats of these majestic monuments. The former princely city of Sangrur once had four major reservoirs on all four corners of town, but the man made foolish decisions killed all four tanks, and this is too declared as the so called modern development. The princely town of Nabha was also lost its famous HattiKhanna Talab along with several other ponds in town and in adjacent villages. The ruins of traditional ponds system of Punjab can be found in the districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur and Ropar. The remains of puckka ghats with beautiful construction are the evidence of the rich native tradition of Ponds, their architect and design in Punjab. But this great glory of conserving water is the thing of forgotten past. Today nobody is aware about it and no body wants to care about it. It is sad and unfortunate its own people put this great pond system on death in Punjab.

    With this the situation worsened more. In 1980 there are 3712 villages identified as drinking water problem villages, this figure went up to 6287 in 1990, and then in year 2000 the number goes as high as 8518 and as of now 11849 villages or habitations out of total 12423 in Punjab are facing drinking water problems.

    Another aspect of crisis is fast deteriorating quality of ground water along with canal water. According to a survey done by Punjab Remote Sensing Centre at Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana and National Bureau of Soil Survey and use planning, Punjab has very high concentration of sodium carbonate and salinity in tube well water. Survey says that 57% of ground water is unfit for irrigation. More over some districts of Malwa region are in deep crisis as they had very less percentage of their ground water up to the mark. Muktsar has only 38% quality water, Faridkot – 33%, Mansa 35%, Sangrur-34%, Bathinda -19.77% and Moga has poor 14.98% of ground water fit for irrigation. The Punjab level picture is gloomier as 7.7% ground water in entire state is totally unfit, 5.3% has high salt contents and 42.1% contains sodium bicarbonate. Several farmers in Bathinda, Mansa, Muktsar, Faridkot and Moga districts lost their crop productivity and yield. The geo-physical analysis of ground water of Punjab shows that it contains high levels of Fluorine, Nitrates, Sulphate, Sodium, Selenium, cadmium, chromium and even nickel.

    The poor water quality also results in higher consumption of fertilizers and other nutrients to sustain the falling yields. Farmers are spending on gypsum and zinc every year to counter the effects of salinity. Salts in water the also block percolation process that facilitate recharging of ground water. This highly sub-standard ground water is also contributing high incidences of cancer in Malwa. There are several water bourn diseases spreading in entire Punjab, but Malwa is worst victim. Graying of hairs, arthritis, and fluorosis both skeletal and dental has already taken over the dieses list.
    The situation is alarming as on the one hand ground water is fast going down day by day and on the other hand its quality is not only deteriorating but already deteriorated.

    The doom does not ends here, there are more stark facts yet has to come. Take canal water now. In earlier days canal water is considered ideal for irrigation is no more so, courtesy industrial pollution and un-treated effluents released in rivers and rivulets. This has further deepens the water crisis and woes of common people. The canal water in most of areas is contaminated and polluted. The situation had becomes worst during summer-season. This year Malwa region had faced unprecedented water crisis when black water flows through canals containing contaminators, pollutants, toxicants and whole lot of chemicals. Districts of Faridkot, Muktsar, Bathinda and Abohar-Fazilka were literally on water wars, as Municipal Committees were forced to stop supplying tap water to the people. Even Muktsar civic body had made public announcement to not to drink municipal water. The water is stinking and a dangerous substance flowing in taps distributing diseases. This canal water is even unfit for irrigation also.

    The ground water is contaminated more near the rivers and drains. The untreated industrial waste released into drains ,which is further seeping into the lands and thus polluting the ground water. Several towns are witnessing this problem. The lives of people living along side of drains in Punjab are fast becoming vulnerable to even DNA damage. Dr J S Thakur of PGIMER who is working on this issue admits that water contaminated by untreated industrial waste might be leading to the DNA change and making people predisposed to cancer and congenital diseases. His views were supported by Dr. Gursatej Gandhi scientist at Genetics Department, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar who had worked in Mahal village situated on the bank of a drain which carries industrial affluent. She says the ground water contamination due to industrial waste disposal in drains is causing very severe health challenge. The toxic waste after seeping into ground water brings several irreversible health damages. She cites examples of not only DNA damage, but also chromosome damage, premature ageing and other adverse effects due to drinking of this contaminated ground water.
    This situation again put extra financial burden on citizens. The sale of water filters and purifiers has shot up in last two years in Punjab. The ordinary people in fear of cancer and other deadly dieses are purchasing expensive water purifiers, even by taking loan. Providing safe water has become money minting business in the very land of five rivers. This has bound to be deep cultural impacts besides socio-economic stress in society.

    These are few glimpses of water crisis in Punjab. To bring Punjab out of this devastation, the civil society has to act today only, tomorrow may be too late. Save Water is not mere a slogan it should become convection, commitment and mission of every proud Punjabi. More over the role of Punjab government, politicians, beurocrates and decision makers is yet not in accordance with the gravity of the crisis. Punjab has to evolve a strategy, action plan, water policy and most important its water vision to save its existence. But all these should based on eternal values preached by our glorious water heritage and wisdom.
    The land of Guru Nanak, who has given a rousing call for wellbeing of all creators and shown the first struggle on water rights of common people, is fast loosing its water heritage. There would be no more Bhai Khaniya, if there is no water left in Punjab. It was Bhai Khaniya who was called the true Sikh by Guru Gobind Singh and who had served water without any thought of friend and enemy, who gave water to each and every one without any discrimination. But waterless Punjab can not follow Bhai Khaniya anymore.

    Without Aab we can not imagine Punj aab. How could we do Sarbbat da Bhala – wellbeing of alls if there is no water? State number One should wake up to save its very character.

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