Punjab, the land of the five rivers, known for its extensive network of canals that helps it subsist as the food bowl of the country, is witnessing the declining purity of its waters. Toxic water with a foul smell is reported to be flowing through the Kotla branch canal in Sangrur district, triggering health concerns. Villagers claim that waste continues to be discharged into the canal. They are especially worried as the water is used for farming. The excessive use of fertilisers and insecticides has already led to the contamination of groundwater, a probable reason behind the high incidence of cancer in some districts. Earlier, dead fish were found floating in canals, apparently due to toxicity and the declining level of oxygen in the water.
The waters of Gung and Indira Gandhi canals, distributaries of the Sutlej that flow into Rajasthan, have not been deemed fit for consumption earlier too, because of the discharge of toxic effluents into the river near Ludhiana. As the Sutlej crosses Ludhiana, the waste pumped into it through the Budha Nullah and the pollution have caused concern in south-west Malwa as the river waters are used to meet the drinking needs of about 15 districts. The polluted waters from the Sutlej and Beas that enter Rajasthan through the Indira Gandhi Canal affect eight districts in west Rajasthan. The use of canal water for bathing, washing clothes and disposal of sewage is prohibited, still the practice goes on. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) appointed a committee to monitor pollution in the Sutlej and Beas rivers and slapped a fine of Rs 50 crore on Punjab last year for failing to keep its rivers clean, but the move does not seem to have had much effect. There are demands for common effluent treatment plants to treat waste water, using it only for industrial purposes and not mixing it with drinking water.
It’s time the state government realised that blatant disregard for the elixir of life will harm the health and productivity of its people and took corrective steps to stem the rot.
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