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Punjab: Sindh valley civilization again ready to die


By Umendra Dutt

About two years back 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 fading ecosystem, a dying civilization; a whole community was put on slow death” affirmed Dr Amar Singh Azad, my senior colleague in Kheti Virasat Mission. “It is crime against humanity and nature by our own governments that too on the name of development” I supported him by adding these words. We all are upset and full of anger after visiting villages near Dhakansu drain and Ghaghar River in Patiala and Sangrur districts.

This was our third visit to any river or drain area to educate ourselves on environmental toxicity and its multiple impacts. For me its second river I have tried to followed after Jayanti in Ropar district, where I did a padyatra about eight years back. I found several similarities between disappearance of Jayanti and Ghaghar. Both rivers have lost their “relevance”, when its people forgot what they stood for. Over the years, the river eco-system at both places has been ravaged and ruined by the developmental activities carried out in the name of modern thinking.

Let me share some more about our recent yatra which if simply transcribed was a field visit to learn of multiple crises of water, environmental toxicity, condition of agriculture, biodiversity, health crisis on vast spectrum and socio- economic stress around the Ghaghar River. In all what we say can be described as an ecological disaster.

Villages Up for Sale

The vision and riverscape is extremely frightening. In recent times, there has been much more talk about severe health and water tragedy going on in few districts of Malwa region. But we all need to stand corrected. The deadly devastation has spread to all of Punjab now. Even as this is happening, some of our well-wishers continue to ask us – “Why are you activists are creating much scare”. Let me respond in the words of Dr. Azad – “Yes we want to create a scare, because it is real and because situation far more destructive then our government can think of.”

To say the least, it is a question of life and death in Punjab; and it is becoming evident that Punjab is a dying civilization. Several people may find this offending, ugly and uncalled for. But the indications we are getting from across the Punjab are writing death sentence for Whole River and related ecosystem in this part of country and particularly for this brave community.

The very fact that villages up for sale symbolises of the deep distress and devastation spread across in Punjab. Let me illustrate with a real example. It was March 2002, and it was first of its kind of protest in India, around that time in Harkishanpura of Bathinda district. This was followed by Malsingh Wala in Mansa district in 2005. Both of these villages are situated in cotton belt of Malwa and have one thing in common: their acute water crisis. It is this situation that forced both villages to put their land on sale. It was a desperate step. But now such water-distress has engulfed the villages of ecologically more prosperous area of Puadh. A village in Patiala district near Chandigarh - Mirzapur Sandharsi is willing to put itself on sale too.

After reading about this in media reports when we visited this village we found that what was bluntly visible was 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 captured by severe water crisis.

There are several indicators to reaffirm of why Dr. Amar Singh Azad said that Punjab is a dying civilization. The symptoms of this slow death is common in the life situations that one can find in our journey from Mirzapur Sandharsi , Harpalpur to Shahpur Theri and Makrodr Sahib in Sangrur. We can classify these symptoms as: severe multiple environmental toxicity. 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.

There is drinking water crisis due to drying-up of upper aquifers, water quality going drastically going down; destruction of river eco-system and vanishing aquatic life; and loss of biodiversity and crop diversity. This is along with increasing health problems particularly those related to reproductive health, falling immune capacity, early ageing and cancers. The same pattern is found in domestic animals their reproductive system which is also under serious threat. Falling agriculture productivity, increase in external inputs and rising debts, growing disconnects between farmer and his land are realities that run along. As a result farmers selling their farms and it have led to the emergence of loss of self confidence among affected people to tackle this formidable challenge and restore ecological health of their homes.

Acute Water Stress and its Impacts

I often say in Punjabi that Punj”aab” is fast turning into Be-aab and Punjabis of Be-aab Punjab are bound to become Be-abaad (displaced). The Mirzapur Sandharsi and near by villages are setting the fittest example for this idiom. Surinder Singh, Sarpanch of Mirzapur Sandharsi told us “There is no proper water and such water stress has forced us to sell our land. We are all ready to even sell our entire village.” As there is no water left in two upper aquifers – at 70 feet and 150 feet respectively, villagers are facing unprecedented hardship to meet basic needs.

Infect the aquifer at 70 feet had gone dry about 10years back and about five years back the second aquifer which was at 150 too went gone dry. “We are forced to dig 12 to 20 feet every year”; told Harbans Singh, Chairman of village cooperative society. When the Ghaghar River was “alive” about 15 year back and its people full of zest, they never anticipated they would face with such acute depletion of water. Bu, as Ghaghar died slowly, the villagers were forced to draw water from third aquifer to be found at the depth of 400 to 450 feet. But unfortunately, this water unfit to even irrigate their farms, leave alone drinking purposes. So its discovery is of no use.

A question you may ask at this stage, is who is ready to buy these villages and agricultural land. The farmers of Mirzapur Sandharsi sold their land to establish a distillery company, which is set to draw water from 1200 feet deep aquifers. Villagers are hopeful that company will change their lives after getting water from 1200 feet deep bore-wells. What is ironic is that after exhausting all upper aquifers, the villagers are finding solution in a factory producing alcohol, as if they are the harbingers of hope. What they perhaps choose not to see is that it is a distillery which has primarily caused destruction of all water sources and contaminated Ghaghar River and its banks.

From the agriculture point of view, the water that a distillery will access is not the same as the upper aquifers. Although, farmers are able to cultivate wheat and paddy, there is no scope for vegetables as the water is extremely hard. It is no surprise then that no farmer is growing vegetables for the last ten years in Mirzapur Sandharsi village. As one farmer remarked,” We have forgetten the taste of our own grown vegetables”

Infect this is a common trend in all villages of this area who are not purchasing vegetables from as far as Ambala. Not to far back this area produced several kinds of vegetables for market as well for self consumption such realities are common even in several villages of Ghannour area of Patiala district. Farmers from Harpalpur situated in that area, says it all “Earlier we use to sell our vegetables in Rajpura and Chandigarh market, but now we are not able to cultivate vegetables anymore. As the water quality deteriorated significantly, it is just not possible.” Farmers of Shahpur Their, Mandavi, Chandu, Makrodr Sahib and Foold will all tell the same story. From growers of food, they are now consumers. The impacts are not just on land quality, family income and self confidence; such a situation has deeply affected household food and nutritional security. Farmers have lost their self reliance, and at the same time there is an additional economic burden to buy food from the market.


Umendra Dutt is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission.
Jaitu, Faridkot district in Punjab.
Phone: 9872682161 E-mail: umendradutt@gmail.com

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