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“Ludhiana City’S Groundwater Is Just Short Of Poison”

Bikram singh

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“Ludhiana city’s groundwater is just short of poison”

— M Mehta, regional director, Central Ground Water Board,

Ludhiana: Punjab

Before making any mention of the status of groundwater in this industrial nerve centre known as ‘Manchester of India’, it is important to remember that groundwater is Ludhiana’s only source of water. The largest city in Punjab with about one million people, its annual drinking water requirement is 44 million cubic metres (cum), against an estimated annual replenishable groundwater of 23 million cum. So, to meet the demand-supply balance, deeper aquifers are being accessed and overexploitation is rampant. In order to provide assured water supply, the municipal corporation is exploiting groundwater resources through 80 extraction points. Besides most residents and industrial units also extract groundwater. And no prizes for guessing the status of the groundwater.

“Ludhiana city’s groundwater is just short of poison,” says M Mehta, regional director, cgwb, Chandigarh. The culprits are 1,311 thriving industrial units that are engaged in producing cycles and textiles, among other things, and include foundries. According to a CGWB report, the units are discharging about 50,000 cum of industrial effluents — mostly of toxic contents — each day into the Budha Nala, a stream that recharges the groundwater of the city. The stream travels through the city to the point of its confluence with the Satluj river 20 km downstream.

The pollution of groundwater reached such a proportion in 1993 that the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) wrote to the state government asking for signboards to be put around shallow tube wells stating ‘water unfit for drinking’. However, six years down the line, you can go round the city and not find a single signboard. Rather, people are still using water from shallow aquifers. “The first aquifer is already polluted. If not checked it would percolate down to the deeper aquifers,” says R Nath, who was professor of biochemistry at Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Chandigarh, before he retired.

To identify the industrial units pumping effluents directly into aquifers, the ppcb put a series of advertisements in newspaper declaring a cash award to informants. “Not a single person informed us about it though there have been reports that some industries are doing it for years,” says D K Dua, member secretary, ppcb, Patiala. Yet, Dua insists, that pollution is reducing: “The pollution level in the groundwater is declining, as our studies show.”

But studies by CPCB, and more recently by CGWB, contradict Dua’s statement. CGWB’s report on Ludhiana’s groundwater status affirms that many industrial units are deliberately pumping effluents into the aquifers. The groundwater is a cocktail of heavy metals, cyanide, alkaline content and pesticides. The groundwater board found that levels of heavy metals such as cadmium, cyanide, lead and chromium were all above permissible limits in the shallow aquifers, while traces of arsenic were within the permissible limit. Small quantities of these heavy metals were also traced in the deeper aquifers.

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