Problem of Plenty

Punjab, the breadbasket of  India is a state which is producing 20% of the India's wheat and 9% of India's rice thus 'contributing a significant percentage of wheat and rice to the central pool (Joshi et al, 2015). 83% of the state land is agricultural which is far greater than the national average of 40.38 % (GOI). Punjab is a rich state in terms of agro-based economy thus is also subjected to severe exploitation of its natural resources. A recent draft committee on the water in Punjab stated that in next 25 years, the state will reduce into a desert if it continues to exploit its groundwater at the same existing rate of now (Bariana, 2019). In the year 2012, out of the total 137 Blocks, 103 were overexploited, 5 blocks were critical, 4 were semi-critical and 25 were in the safe zone in terms of its groundwater capacity (Pandey, 2014). The extensive use of chemicals in agriculture has led to severe pollution in the land and water resources with some places having extremely unfit water for drinking. The issue of unfit drinking water in the state has not surfaced well yet because not everyone is dealing with this problem. The use of modern RO water purifiers in the state has ultimately served the elite class only and the bottom of the Pyramids one's are trapped in the paradox of hospitals and existence.

In 1950s-60s the green revolution was introduced to the world with an aim of increasing the crop production of the countries with using modern agricultural tools, chemicals, fertilizers and modern farming practices. When India was at the brink of another great famine in 1960's Norman Borlaug, the father of Green Revolution was invited to the country. Punjab was selected for India's green revolution because of its favourable agricultural environment. The introduction of Dwarf wheat seeds was an immediate success in the Indian food pool but these seeds required relatively more water and fertilisers. So, the farmers adopted the Rice-Wheat loop, which has resulted in the great loss of natural resources especially water as for Paddy the requirement of water is far more than any other crop (Pandey, 2014 and Wikipedia). The use of new High Yield Variety seeds began in the Green Revolution required more fertilisers and pesticides. Therefore, the use of these chemicals was expanded many folds to further proliferate the production of grains. The repetitive use of these chemicals now has affected the overall health of soil that badly, that the soil has become more and more depended on these chemicals leaving no alternative for the farmers except the extensive use of the fertilizers. The deadly compounds in fertilizers have slowly penetrated in to the layers of soil and ultimately are reaching the groundwater leading to a severe contamination.

Arsenic concentration in the alluvial aquifer of Punjab has been found at a range of 4-688 mg I-1, whereas the maximum permissible limit is 10 mg I-1 making it unsafe for human consumption and its high concentration can affect human life very deadly (Hundal et al, 2007). Drinking water samples of Faridkot and Bathinda has fluoride concentration of more than the safe human consumption limit of 1 mg I-1 (Sharma et al, 2014). Presence of high level of Nitrate in Malwa region has posed a great threat as 80% of its groundwater is not suitable for drinking. But the people mainly minority and poor ones rely on this resource of water due to lack of availability of any other source and affordability issues (Kureti, 2018).

The Beas molasses incident which happened in the year 2018 was an indicator of how vulnerable Punjab is in terms of Industrial waste management. The incident left thousands of aquatic animals dead but no substantial improvement has been done to prevent such incidents in the future. Government despite familiar with the fact that the condition of Punjab in its water management is very critical, seems to be chained by the boundaries of Populism and people opinions. The draft to delay the date of Paddy sowing in Punjab to reduce the water exploitation has been refuted by both the governments in the past because of the large farmers vote bank in the state (Sood, 2015). Free electricity and ubiquitous water bore wells in Punjab has although increased the food production but the cost is far too high if we compare it to the current scenario as once a rich in resource Indian state is now looking at desertification.

As in new India, the success of a state is determined by healthy industries and economic growth, states consistently relaxing environmental regulations to attract investments resulting in the sizeable increase of industrial wastage being dumped into the rivers. The Municipal Solid Waste in Punjab is doubled since 1991 with 2792 tons of waste dumped per day as recorded in the year 2011 (Pandey, 2015). Daily 2000 kilograms and 1200 kilograms of untreated waste are dumped into the Sutlej and Beas rivers daily as per Central Pollution Control Board report.

These staggering figures and long definitions are of no use to the real victims of water problem in Punjab. The overwhelming poor population who cannot afford the high cost of modern water purifiers are the silent victims of this human made disaster. The belief and trust of the affordable class in science and money will ultimately serve fuel in the imminent disaster. The waste water of Reverse Osmosis cannot be used even for washing the clothes as it probably contains more salt than any detergent. A single thought about where this water with this much higher concentration of poison is reaching ultimately can shred off the myths of many. There must be a more holistic approach to this problem and prior to an approach, the understanding and realisation of the problem is the first step to counter this. Proper waste and water management with strict enforcement by the regulatory agencies is the need of the hour. The poor and marginalised who don't even know that they are the victims need to be sensitised about the consequences of unsafe drinking water. Authorities need to intervene with strict provisions and provide these innocent victims safe and adequate water in the first place can help Punjab and its population to have a prosperous future ahead.

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Vol. 52, No. 23, Dec 8 - 14, 2019