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Friday, June 4, 2010

Water crisis in Punjab

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An analysis of water -crisis in Punjab state of India
In his article published in May 29 issue of The Hindu Dr. M. S. Gill, the Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports explains the condition of availability and crisis of water in East and West Punjab existing right since his childhood. Currently, both the Punjabs are bound to face water crisis with the rising heat of the summer season. Now that overuse of synthetic fertilizers has ruined away the fertility and water holding capacity of soil, scarcity of water is creating more and more painful conditions in these areas. Both crops and fodder can not be grown during summer as experienced this year too, and this condition is leading to deaths of cattle.

Dr. Gill recalls in his article that when the British fully overtook Punjab in 1849, their thought turned to the possibility of engineering for agriculture. In the 1860s first canal was built by them in Gurdas Puritsar area. They built great canal colonies in West Punjab during 1880 -1920. In 1960s and 1970s the Bhakhra dam was built and Green Revolution was created. “Water was available in Amritsar at just 15 feet in wells during those days’ – recalls Dr. Gill. There was no crisis of water in that area even during summer season. Lucerne and other fodder crops along with other crops were grown during summer and plenty of milk was available. Farmers prospered during that period as there were good harvests and “more citrus orchards”. Plenty of water was available everywhere in those days remembers Dr. Gill.

In 1960, as recalls Dr. Gill, the President of the World Bank Mr. Eugene Black mediated the Indus Water Treaty in Karanchi. This treaty worked well for 50 years and it was during this period that the Bhakhra, the Beas and the Tarbella dams were built and irrigation was expanded in the state. Nine lakh tube wells were added through cooperative. According to Dr. Gill, an unacceptable burden of 175 million people in Pakistan against 50 million in 1950 has created great discomfort. As a result the availability of water per capita per year has been reduced from 5,000 cubic feet in 1960 to 1,500 cubic feet today. About 6,000 cubic meters of drinking water per capita per year was available in 1947 in Punjab- according to Dr. Gill. The current records show that this availability has reduced up to 1,600 cubic meters. It has been projected that only 1,147 cubic meter of water per person per year will be available by 2050.

According to Dr. Gill, 9 lakh of shallow tubewells are drying in Punjab now. In order to grab water from even more lower strata rich farmers are digging deep up to 300 feet or even more with submersible pumps. Small farmers are unable to do this. One deep tubewell can lead to drying up of about 100 shallow tubewells around it. Due to more and more deep tubewells the water- table has already gone far down and this situation is leading to social tensions.

It is reported that 95 percent of East Punjab’s development blocks are in grey areas for tubewells. In Southern Punjab and in some other areas too, availability of salty water has been reported. West Punjab too, is facing these conditions. In the West Punjab, it is reported that the water crisis of the current time is a matter of life and death of farmers. Not only crops, even fodder cannot be grown there in summer and cattle remain bound to starve. The satellite studies conducted by America show severe and steady ground water depletion in Punjab and Eastern Uttar Pradesh.

To avert the current water crisis, Punjab and other water scarce states can follow the suggestions of Dr. M. S. Gill who writes – I know, we will have to rise above, and beyond, politics and focus on crisis, which requires difficult and bitter solutions. Scientific solutions exist and more can be found. There should be equal share of water for all, and the time has come to license and regulate tubewell sinking, including permissible depth. Anyone should not be allowed to take a maximum share by means of wealth and power. There is need to insist upon a more balanced crop-plan. It is to be remembered that Punjab has been providing the surplus for the country to avoid imports since 1966. If Punjab can feed the country and defend it from enemies, and can make the country stronger enough in terms of wealth, it can be expected from the people of this state to solve any problem coming in its way, may it be the problem of water crisis or so. Water should not and can not create a social disharmony here. Rather, people of Punjab can sit, think and plan to avert the crisis by applying their scientific knowledge, cooperation of people and unity towards proper management of water. The Government of Punjab is suggesting to stop wastage of 40 percent of the canal water to rely on collective will and effort, and not allow people to mislead them with comforts that they have no shortcomings and that others are to blame. Dr. Gill writes – Both Punjab should face up to water crisis, with courage and steady application of science. …

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