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Special Tribune Investigation — Killer Drain I
Budda Nullah gets more septic
3 lakh kilolitre sewage discharge daily
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, August 27
From the banks of Budda Nullah at Badi Haibowal, you witness something utterly grotesque. Low on water and shockingly high on untreated domestic and industrial sewage, the once-hardy Nullah has ceased to flow at this point and on several others along the 9-km stretch for which it passes through the city limits. Reason — lack of water for dilution of waste and unabated discharge of raw sullage into the Nullah.

At the point in question, the stream is jet black; its waters turbid and stank. In these logged waters, there’s no semblance of life. What you see instead are remains of dead animals stuck in the sludge and chunks of freshly scraped animal flesh, mainly of pigs, whose meat is openly sold from the outlets thriving on the Nullah’s banks.

Add to this the daily industrial effluent discharge of 60,000 cubic metres comprising poisonous heavy metals like arsenic, chemicals like cyanide, harmful pesticides and toxic organic compounds including phenols, detergents, DDT and what not. Collectively, the pollution load is turning the already-septic drain into a killer one. The stench is lethal, almost. But people are enduring the mess, as they have no choice.

Scratch the butcher of Gopal Nagar for information on how he manages to rears pigs (a trade punishable under Section 343 of the Municipal Act) and he blurts out stuff that should put Ludhiana Municipal Corporation to shame: “There is no dearth of pigs here. They thrive in filth and we rear them for a living. Some people have kept them in the rooms inside their houses. As regards disposal of unpalatable parts, they go into the Nullah.”

Well then, dead animals and animal remains are the latest contributors to the pollution load the Ludhiana MC is exerting on the Budda Nullah. As if a daily discharge of 3, 00,000 kilo litre (KL) of untreated domestic waste was not good enough for a bad reputation, here comes animal waste to threaten the health of those living close to the Nullah.

The doctors are wary; they can’t believe animal waste is making its way into the Nullah. Dr J.S. Thakur from the PGI’s Community Medicine Department explains: “The matter should be taken very seriously. It can lead to severe outbreak of diseases, some of which have high mortality. Pigs are carriers of Japanese encephalitis and if reared in such unhealthy conditions they can be potentially damaging. This should be stopped.”

But till that happens, Budda Nullah, once the lifeline of Ludhiana, will have to bear the brunt of official apathy. Currently, Ludhiana MC makes up over 95 per cent of the total waste discharged into the Nullah, says Pawan Garg, Superintending Engineer with Punjab Pollution Control Board at Ludhiana. Not just that - of the 12 municipal committees throwing waste into river Sutlej in Punjab, Ludhiana MC is contributing the maximum to pollution load of the river - a whopping 20,048 kg a day. Next comes Jalandhar MC with 6, 620 kg a day.

And yet things are moving slowly. Ludhiana has no solid waste treatment plant in place yet. Three domestic sewage treatment plants, to be built under the Sutlej Action Plan, are still under construction. Admitting that the existing system of waste disposal (through landfill sites) is “very primitive”, Municipal Commissioner Vikas Pratap says he has put the matter under the city plan and will find a solution under the Jawahar Lal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission.

But the MC’s past record has been poor. In fact, it was the Corporation that initially proposed to dump domestic waste into Budda Nullah. When in the late 60s it provided underground sewerage facilities, it did not construct waste treatment plants due to lack of funds. Disposal of waste into Budda Nullah was conceived as a temporary solution. But it has lasted to contaminate the city’s drinking water sources.

Though water from the Nullah is still being used for drinking purposes, studies show it is slow poison. In July last year, Ludhiana witnessed a massive outbreak of gastroenteritis. A three-year-old girl in Jeewan Nagar died and 120 reported sick. This year too, the situation is bad. At Gopal Nagar alone, there’s a sick person in every house, acute diarrhoea being common. “This is routine,” says Sheila Thakur, a resident; her casual admission being telltale. Perhaps she has no idea what she is drinking.

The Nullah’s water is laced with heavy metals. M.S. Brar and MPS Khurana of PAU recently showed that the mean content of arsenic, lead, nickel, chromium, iron and zinc in Budha Nullah’s waste water samples collected at entry point to Ludhiana increase by 42, 18.7, 140, 260, 36 and 19.5 folds respectively, 15 km downstream. This is due to disposal of untreated industrial effluents. The soil chemists also explain how metals are entering the food chain. In cauliflower irrigated on Budda Nullah water, nickel accumulates in soil to the extent of 1512 per cent; in edible curds and leaves to the extent of 87 and 84 per cent, respectively.

That’s just one of the several heart-breaking statistics.





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