State of ground water in Andhra Pradesh

Over exploitation of ground waters, falling water tables, pollution of water even at those depths are some of the issues that have been worrying experts and environmentalists for nearly two decades. Of course the governments have been making laws to prevent this and also to improve situation. However experts say not only the laws are not properly implemented, still worse the violations are ignored for various reasons. In this backdrop The Hans India takes a look at the present situation in the State.

Realty affecting water tables

East Godavari

As far as the salinity in most of the areas in Konaseema, oil explorations of ONGC are main reasons. Seismic surveys being taken up by ONGC are changing the whole eco-system in the region”


East Godavari district can be divided into three parts to measure ground water level namely delta, upland and agency area. The ground water level is very high in the delta area, varies in the agency area and very low in the upland area. Nearly one lakh acres of land is being cultivated through rain harvesting mostly in upland area.

The ground water level in most of the mandals in upland area is very low. Average groundwater level was 15.47 meters in upland areas. It was 15.47 meters in January 2012 whereas it went down to 12.38 meters in February 2013.


In the delta region of the district, ground water level is very high, thanks to the irrigation system created by Sir Arthur Cotton. The average water level in the delta region was 3.46 meters in January 2010 and 2.78 meters in February 2013. But, the ground water is not useful for drinking purpose in mandals like Malkipuram, Uppalaguptham, Tallarevu, Sakhinetipalli, Mamidikuduru, Karapa, I Polavaram, Kajuluru and Allavaram as salinity of water is high and the people depend on protected drinking water systems and water tanks for drinking water.

In the agency area, the average ground water level was 4.85 meters in January 2012 and 5.41 meters in February 2013. The district average of water level was 8.799 meters in January 2010 and 6.969 in February 2013. The district average groundwater level was 7.826 meters in May 2011, 7.512 meters in May 2012 and 7.649 meters in April, 2013.

Speaking to The Hans India, Deputy Director, Ground Water Department, RV Venkateswara Rao said, “We measure static ground water level with 48 piezo meters in the district. Normally, we focus on water levels in upland areas as there will be no significant changes in the water levels in delta as well as agency areas. We measure water levels in pre-monsoon period from December and post- monsoon period from November.

There is no significant change in the water levels in the past few years and there is significant rise in the ground water level this year in comparison with the last year, thanks to Nilam cyclone”.

Official spokesperson of Konaseema Rythu Parirakshana Samithi, Matta Mahalakshmi Prabhakar said, “Ground water reserves are depleting as the region is becoming concrete jungle and due to lack of rain harvesting. Real estate boom is another reason for depleting ground water levels in the district. The government should continue to take steps to store water by cleaning up abandoned water tanks and canals through NREGS. There is need of check- dams and rain harvesting. As far as the salinity in most of the areas in Konaseema, oil explorations of ONGC are main reasons. Seismic surveys being taken up by ONGC are changing the whole eco-system in the region”.

Poor management of surface waters


N Viswnath

The depletion of ground water is happening everywhere in the region. Due to deviation in rain fall and shortsightedness of government officials over maintaining surface water at natural water bodies, the situation of ground water level worsening year by year.

The following is the situation in different districts:


The shallow water table through Piezo meters studied by Ground Water Department clarified that the water level in Kuppagam of Adoni revenue division is 53.80 meters bgl (below ground level) in March 2013.

It was 51.98 mbgl in previous month and was 47.25 in last year March. The water level depleted by almost all 6.55 m in one year’s time.In Alamur-D village (Rudravaram mandal) the water level was just 13.1 m in 2012, but went into deep by 37.65 m by March 2013. In last May the water table was just 10.88m and depleted by 39.87m, which is worst in entire district.

Chittoor District

The situation is same in Chittoor district also. The average rain fall across the district during April in every year was 872.2 mm, but actual spell was 809.3mm, where the deviation was calculated at minus 7.21%. The worst affected villages are in Western part of Chittoor district like Piler, Punganur, Tamballapalle, Kalikiri, Kalakada, B.Kothakota and others. The deviation of rain fall was almost all crossed minus 35%.

However the ground water table was also affected a lot. In Pulicharla village the water table dipped from 21.35 mbgl in April 2012 to 46.92 m in April 2013, which is almost all minus 25.57 mbgl. Here the actual rain fall in April 2013 was 601.2 mm against the normal rain fall 856.8 mm. Three fourths of district was in negative trend in terms of ground water table.

Anantapuram District

In Anantapuram district the ground water level was at 42.53 m bgl in Putlur mandal followed by Parigi and Somandepalli mandals, where the levels were at 32.29m and 29.17 mbgl. More scarcity of drinking and irrigated water is in 900 villages and 44 villages were declared as dangerous by district administration. The district’s average ground water level was estimated at 18.44 mbgl. The normal rainfall during April is 552.1 mm, but the actual fall is only 461.2 mm.

Thousands of acres of cultivated land remain barren due to the depletion in ground water table and farmers forced to deviate from cultivation as they lost thousands of rupees on digging of bore wells.

Kadapa District

The district’s average ground water level in March 2013 is at about 17.08 m bgl, which is minus 4.37 m comparatively to March 2012. Comparing to May last year it was minus 1.55 m, because the situation had become worse within two months in 2012. The average GWL in Kadapa district was 12.71 m bgl in March 2012 but dipped to 15.53 m by May 2012, which is 2.82 m depletion in just two months.

In April 2013 the average GWL was 18.69, which is further depletion of 1.73 m bgl just within one month. In March 2013, the GWL was 17.08m, but went to 18.69m. If it is the district’s average data, anyone can imagine the depletion at specific places.

(With inputs from Y.Santosh Reddy-Ananthapur, K. Rajkumar-Kurnool, MS Murthy-Chittoor and P.Nagaraju-Kadapa)

Holistic approach is lacking

Household level Rail Water Harvesting (RWH) systems are required. However, by putting them on the top of the water conservation agenda does not help

ReddyHyderabad urban agglomeration (HUA) has a population of about 7 million. The city had a number of natural and human-made water bodies locally known as Cheruvus, Kuntas etc.

These water bodies acted as water storage reservoirs for irrigation, drinking and groundwater recharge, and have been an inalienable part of the ecology of the city and its surroundings.
Gradually, while some lakes were encroached and replaced by concrete buildings, several others got severely polluted with the domestic and industrial effluents.

Increasing number of bore wells and the decline of ground -water table have resulted in the bore wells going deeper to over 800-1000 feet in several areas as many old bore wells are drying up. Due to increasing population in HUA and the slow expansion of Water Board coverage area, residents are increasingly resorting to groundwater usage.

With lesser availability of safe supplied water, in Hyderabad, as in many urban areas, poor communities tend to depend more on groundwater. Many landless agricultural labourers and marginal farmers have started migrating to Hyderabad to find employment, putting extra pressure on the already stressed urban infrastructure.

The new Hyderabad growth plan, in the form of HMDA Master Plan 2031, does not mention water and sanitation services, including the expected demand, resources to meet such demand and land use planning related to watsan services. Hyderabad also houses commercial and industrial activities like every other urban area. Pollutants released into the ground through these commercial and industrial activities seep deep and diminish the quality of groundwater.

Survey by Ground Water Department revealed that more than 50,000 borewells have gone dry in the summer of 2012.

Groundwater stress and Projected Water Deficit for Hyderabad Considering the limited potential of hard rock aquifers, reduced recharge and that the resource is being tapped from deeper depths, there is possibility of degradation of groundwater beyond recoverable level in future due to rapid urbanization in Hyderabad.

In case of Hyderabad, there is already stress on ground water and as per one estimate, about 25-30% of total water requirement is being met through ground water.

Water transport from Hyderabad’s peri-urban villages into the city is increasing, with it being a lucrative business, over and above pursuing agriculture. Hyderabad Metro Water Board also does such pumping and transport groundwater.

The intended regulation through Water, Land and Trees Act (WALTA) has not made any impact in urban areas. Under the Act, it is compulsory to get permission from MRO before digging any bore well. It is also prohibited to draw water from below 500 feet of ground level. To meet the growing demand, people of all sections of the society frequently flout both these regulations.

Rainwater harvesting (RWH) RWH has regained its importance as a valuable alternative or supplementary water resource, along with more conventional water supply technologies.

Much actual or potential water shortages can be relieved if rainwater harvesting is practiced more widely Rainwater can be used for multiple purposes ranging from irrigating crops to washing, cooking and drinking.
However, individual rainwater harvesting systems are getting thrust, more than watershed management and conservation. Household level RWH systems are required. However, by putting them on the top of the water conservation agenda does not help.

Water as a natural resources should belong to everyone, especially when it comes in the form of rain, rivers, rivulets, ground water and tanks. Rain water harvesting would also become successful in increasing groundwater when there is promotion of urban watershed development, management and conservation including protection of water flow channels, tanks, nalas, cheruvus and lakes from encroachment and pollution. Restoration of such systems should be the priority of laws, regulatory authorities and residents.

Misuse of water  a big worry

Krishna dt

Ch Sowmya Sruthi

In Krishna district we receive 138 millimeters of rainfall. Although we are utilizing the ground water enormously, we are not contributing to recharge the water that is used. On the other hand, increasing mercury levels have added to the evaporation of the groundwater reserves.

The maximum depth of groundwater’s in the district is at Musunuru mandal with 50 meters and minimum depth is at delta area in the Vijayawada city with less than 5 meters low.

Rainwater harvesting is a concept that has to be educated among the farmers and digging farm ponds which requires only one percent of the total land are ideal techniques to save water in the agriculture field.

Deputy Director of Groundwater Department Angatha Varaprasada Rao said, water conservation should be made a habit. Misuse, indiscriminate use, inefficient use, over use of water which we think is freely available should be contained. Farmers should come out of the myths that farm ponds occupy land and lessen the harvest.

In fact, the pond which requires one percent of the land can not only collect and preserve rain water but laterally flows providing moist to the soil which increases the crop or vertically percolates to raise the water table. They may also serve water for the cattle in the field.

Protecting sand reaches essential

Warangal dt

James Edwin

Over exploitation of water resources for decades together and lack of remedial measures have seriously been impacting the level of ground water table in Warangal district. The seriousness of the problem is such that even as the district received above average rain fall in the year 2012-13 there has been a drastic fall in the ground water level in about 300 villages in 13 mandals of the district.

waterThe break-up of the 44 piezometer readings in 44 mandals collected by Ground water department indicates that there has been no improvement in 13 out of 44 mandals despite the high rainfall recorded in Warangal. The district received above normal rainfall of 1,070 mm during 2012-13 as against the 687 mm average recorded in 2011-12. Though this helped to recharge the groundwater table by an average 0.71 metre, the impact was not uniform.

A comparison of the piezometer readings from January-12 to January-13 shows that the ground water table jumped from average 9.02 mbgl (metres below ground level) on January-12 to 8.32 average mbgl as on January-2013. However, the April month district average is standing at 10.88 mbgl indicating the increase of depth of water available below the ground.

The situation in 13 mandals has been termed alarming. The reason for this according to experts in the field is ineffective implementation of AP Water, Land and Trees Act (WALTA), 2002, combined with lack of rain water harvesting structures and over-exploitation of and reaches.

According to groundwater department deputy director G Sambaiah if excess sand is excavated from stream bed the bore wells near the stream dry up. Sand bank in rivers and streams help percolation of surface water into the ground and recharge bore Kakatiya University geology professor K Niranjan suggests that more water with high concentration of bore wells and uncontrolled mining of sand reaches should be stopped to improve groundwater table.

According to them, there has been 30 to 20 percent fall in the ground water table in the district in comparison with water table half a decade ago. “The key is rainwater harvesting structures and restoration of tanks,” said the Professor.

“In Warangal district a decade ago about ten percent of borewells used to fail and now the figures raised to 30 percent because of the fast depleting ground water levels” Singareddy Shoury Reddy of Bala Vikasa Service Society, which has been working in the field of water conservation.
In terms of agricultural bore wells the percentage of failed wells is about 50 percent.

The District Water Management Agency (DWMA) which delegated the task of renovating water bodies has completed only five traditional water bodies while works in 128 other water bodies is pending. “If silt from minor and small irrigation tanks is removed there would be a possibility of increasing groundwater 10-15 percent each year” Sambaiah noted. The lack of desiltation of the tanks has been rendering many tanks to dry up even before summer season reaches its peaks, the official noted.

The incident of Laknavaram Lake in Govindaraopet in the district drying up in this season is an example.

The Warangal City Municipal Corporation commissioner Vivek Yadav informed that under the corporation limits the citizens are being encouraged to dig ‘Inkudu guntalu’ (percolation pits) to recharge the ground water level. ‘There have been a positive response and this monsoon we will see the results” he added.

Restoring groundwater in Punjab, India’s breadbasket: finding agricultural solutions for water sustainability

Author(s): Shama Perveen, Chandra Kiran Krishnamurthy, Rajinder S. Sidhu, & et al
Source: Columbia water Center
Publication Date: July 2012

Inline image 1

For Indians, the very mention of the word “Punjab” conjures up visions of lush green fields, rich alluvial soils and water aplenty. Punjab has for years been the breadbasket of India, and since the “Green Revolution” of the 1960s, it has taken on an even greater role in feeding the nation. Comprising a mere 1.57 percent of India’s total geographical area, today the state of Punjab produces 12 percent of the India’s 234 million tons of foodgrain, and nearly 40 and 60 percent of the wheat and rice that buffer the nation’s central pool for maintaining food stocks and operating public distribution system for the poor. Today, however, Punjab’s agricultural success is threatened by unsustainable irrigation practices and a rapidly dropping water table. This white paper outlines the extent and severity of Punjab’s water crisis, and outlines the results of a field study to help farmers irrigate rice more efficiently. The paper then focuses on the application of the tensiometer, a simple device that had the most promising results in helping farmers save water. The paper concludes that in conjunction with other measures, it is possible to rapidly scale up tensiometer use by rice farmers in Punjab, thus saving millions of liters of water as well as over 80 million kilowatt hours per year of electricity for a very low cost.

‘High pesticide levels in Delhi groundwater’, TNN | Jun 18, 2012, 06.06AM IST

NEW DELHI: The groundwater that most of Delhi relies on when water shortage leaves taps dry is probably far more contaminated than we can imagine.

A recent study by a team from the civil engineering department of IIT-Delhi on the groundwater quality in the Palla-Burari region has made some alarming revelations. The water samples tested from this area contain moderately high levels of pesticides; some of them residues of long-banned pesticides, such as DDT. This region has close to 80 borewells and five Ranney wells that meet about 15% of Delhi’s water needs.

The team tested the water samples for organochloride pesticides (OCP) that breakdown very slowly in the environment. Many of these pesticides disrupt the endocrine system and mimic the body’s natural hormones causing havoc in the hormonal system. The study says these pesticides can lead to serious longterm health hazards.

Samples were collected from 21 borewells and tested for 17 varieties of OCPs. Three samples tested positive for all 17 targeted OCPs. The most frequently occurring pesticide residues were of aldrin, a byproduct of insecticide lidane, endosulfan and even DDT. “Yes, we found residues of even pesticides that are banned. It’s worrying because these pesticides remain in the environment for very long,” said professor Atul K Mittal, who headed the study. The most commonly occurring pesticide in the water samples was aldrin.

Though the concentrations of pesticides were not higher than the standards set by Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), in many cases the samples had higher concentration of pesticides than the WHO and EU standards. “In case of organochloride pesticides, the concentration is not so much a worry as the fact that we are continuously exposed to them. They stay in our environment for a long time. Such exposure can be directly linked to higher incidence of cancer, reduced fertility, thyroid disruption and other health problems,” said Pravin Mutiyar Suthar, one of the researchers in the study.

The same team also conducted a larger study of the entire Ganga basin covering Uttarakhand, UP and Bihar. The results showed that different types of OCPs predominate in different regions depending upon land-use pattern. HCH, a byproduct of insecticide lidane, was detected mostly in the mountainous stretch (Uttarakhand), the water in UP contained more of endosulfan residues and the Bihar region contained more of the aldrin group of pesticides.

Both the Palla-Burari water quality study and Ganga basin study were published in the journal Drinking Water Engineering and Science this year. The team is continuing to test samples from Yamuna and surrounding areas.

Punjab: DECLINING WATER TABLE Reduce area under paddy, water board tells govt 


Another wake call on Groundwater use in Punjab: CGWB says in 84% area the level is going down (in 14% it is too brackish to be useful), 103 of 137 blocks are in over exploited, five in critical and four in semi critical category, 73% of irrigation is coming from Groundwater, not canals and Punjab needs to reduce area under Paddy.


Reduce area under paddy, water board tells govt
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 24
Expressing concern over the declining water table in the state, the Central Ground Water Board has recommended reducing area under paddy by more than 10 lakh hectares to achieve sustainable growth. In a detailed report submitted to the state government, the board has drawn a road map for the state for ground water management.

“The present state of development and management of groundwater resources in Punjab is a matter of concern for the future of agriculture in the state.There is an urgent need to evolve an optimal ground water management strategy to tackle the problem of the declining water levels,” says the report.

Dwelling on crop diversification, the board says the area under paddy (rice), which consumes six times more water than maize, 20 times more than groundnut, and 10 times more than other kharif crops, has to be reduced.

The board has urged the state to shift from flood irrigation to underground piped water, furrow irrigation and drip and sprinkle irrigation. Punjab is the largest contributor of rice to the central pool.

Educating farmers about the declining water table, regulating power supply, artificial recharge, provision of deeper aquifers and groundwater regulation are the other measures suggested by the board for ground water management.

The board says the groundwater level in Punjab has fallen in about 42,170 sq km area in the north, northeast, central and southern parts, which constitute about 84 per cent of the total area.

The worst affected districts are Nawanshahr, Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Moga, Patiala, Ropar, Fatehgarh Sahib, Sangrur, Mansa, Bathinda, Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur and Amritsar.

There is only 14 per cent area where ground water level is rising owing to less extraction of water because of its brackish quality, which is unfit for use for both domestic and irrigation purposes. In some pockets in Mansa, Moga, Bathinda, Muktsar, Faridkot and Ferozepur, the water level has gone up. The water level in the state ranges from 0.20 metre below ground level (bgl) in Ferozepur district to 32.28 metres bgl in Fatehgarh Sahib district.

The report says that the annual average rainfall has decreased by 45-50 per cent during the past two decades.

It was recorded 755 mm in 1990, 375 mm in 2004 and 420 mm in 2009.

About 97 per cent of the net sown area is irrigated and 80 per cent of the water resources available are used for the farm sector.

Contrary to the impression that the canal system is a major source of irrigation in Punjab, only 27 per cent area is irrigated with canal waters and the remaining 73 per cent area by groundwater pumped out through tubewells. Of the 137 blocks assessed by the board, 103 fall under “over-exploited” category, five in critical and four in semi-critical categories.

The water table is declining at a faster rate in urban areas and industrial towns. “The water level is declining at the rate of 0.50 to 0.60 metre per year in some urban areas and industrial towns”, says the report. However, potable water is available in 84 per cent of state’s total area.

The board says that the main source of pollution is domestic and municipal waste, agriculture practices and industrial activities.

“Untreated effluents from industries have resulted in increased levels of heavy metals like lead, cadmium, manganese, iron, chromium and copper,” says the government report.

Alarming Facts

Area under paddy consumes six times more water than maize, 20 times more than groundnut and 10 times more than other kharif crops

The groundwater level has fallen in (42,170 sq km area) about 84 per cent of the state’s total area

The worst-hit districts are Nawanshahr, Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Moga, Patiala, Ropar, Fatehgarh Sahib, Sangrur, Mansa, Bathinda, Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur and Amritsar

The remedy

State told to shift from flood irrigation to underground piped water, furrow irrigation and drip and sprinkle irrigation

Regulate power supply, opt for artificial recharge and deeper aquifers

Damage Control: Committees under DCs set up in 12 blocks

The Central Ground Water Authority has notified 12 blocks, Nakodar, Shahkot, Lohian, Phagwara, Khanna, Nihalsinghwala, Patran, Sunam, Barnala, Sherpur, Dhuri and Malerkotla. It has authorised the Deputy Commissioners concerned to impose restrictions on the construction/installation of any structure for the extraction of groundwater. Committees headed by the DCs have been empowered to regulate and manage the groundwater. Without the permission of the committees, no tubewell or any other source for extracting groundwater can be set up in the notified areas.

Coca-Cola and Water Use in India: “Good Till the Last Drop” : The Primate Diaries

Coca-Cola and Water Use in India: "Good Till the Last Drop" : The Primate Diaries

The marketing executive who came up with Coca-Cola’s popular slogan in 1908 most likely never expected it would be taken so literally. However, a hundred years ago there probably weren’t many who imagined a term like "water wars" could exist in a region that experiences annual monsoons.

On February 25 a complaint was filed in the New York Supreme Court against the The Coca-Cola Company alleging that they knew about and sought to cover up human rights abuses in Guatemala. While that trial gets started, the company’s controversial practices in India continue involving the over-exploitation of limited water resources and the contamination of groundwater supplies. In response to public outcry the soft drink company is now championing itself as a longtime environmental leader and the business community is eager to advertise their claim. Yesterday CNN Money reported that:

Coke has been a leader when it comes to environmental issues: It is aiming to be water neutral — meaning every drop of water used by the company will be replenished — by 2020.

This would come as a surprise to the Plachimada community in the State of Kerala. Ever since Coca-Cola opened a bottling plant on their land in 2000 they have been faced with chronic drought and polluted water. In 2006 these residents of a small impoverished community in southern India began a pitched campaign to evict Coca-Cola from their land which led to fierce battles with local authorities.

In 2003 Indian journalist Arjun Sen wrote in The Statesman:

Three years ago, the little patch of land in the green, picturesque rolling hills of Palakkad yielded 50 sacks of rice and 1,500 coconuts a year. It provided work for dozens of labourers. Then Coke arrived and built a 40-acre bottling plant nearby. In his last harvest, Shahul Hameed, owner of a smallholding, could manage only five sacks of rice and just 200 coconuts. His irrigation wells have run dry, thanks to Coke drawing up to 1.5 million litres of water daily through its deep wells to bottle Coke, Fanta, Sprite, and the drink the locals call without irony, "Thumbs Up."

To make matters worse, the bottling plant was producing thousands of gallons of toxic sludge and, as the BBC reported, disposed of it by selling the carcinogenic material to local farmers as "fertilizer." High levels of pesticides were also reportedly found in the soft drink produced in the region leading to bans across the country. According to The Guardian, some Indian farmers even chose to spray their fields with Coca-Cola rather than use the more expensive pesticides from Monsanto.

However, the most serious problem was water use. According to anthropologist Ananthakrishnan Aiyer writing in the journal Cultural Anthropology the persistent water problems in the region soon became a crisis after the company’s arrival:

A severe drought in 2004 in Kerala complicated matters as Plachimada was declared a "water impoverished" zone in 2005. By 2005, the Plachimada situation was being replicated as the struggle over water and irrigation rights spread to other rural communities across the country, which led to several agitations and demonstrations against The Coca-Cola Company.

Despite attempts to revoke their license Coca-Cola remained. As Aiyer pointed out, it would have been foolish not to. The company extracted groundwater nearly free of charge (except for a small fee for discharging wastewater) and they were able to reap enormous profits as a result. In the late 1990s the average cost of industrial water in the U.S. was about five dollars per 10,000 litres, whereas in India the price was a mere three cents.

Water in India is literally free and highly lucrative for private corporations. Thus, access to cheap groundwater and the low cost of extracting it in combination with low labor costs and state and local governments falling over each other to attract "foreign investment," all play a role in facilitating the entry of transnational corporations into the water industry.

However, this investment, from Coca-Cola and other multinationals, has come at a significant cost to the local population:

The rural population has especially suffered the most. The clearest and most visible signs of this distress, and there are many, are of course the steady numbers of farmer suicides across the country. By several reliable estimates, there have been anywhere from 22,000 to 25,000 suicides by farmers in the past decade and the majority of these have taken place in the western and southern states. This amounts to about seven suicides a day–a situation that would have called for a national emergency in most Western neoliberal states, but it is certainly not the case in India.

Clearly this trend is the result of larger forces and not just the actions of a single company. Aiyer highlights the role of the World Bank in promoting the privatization of water throughout the country that has resulted in multinational companies and wealthy landowners "sidestepping local government bodies and taking direct control of canals
and irrigation schemes." In the case of Plachimada, Coca-Cola has become a symbol for these larger forces at work:

It is little wonder that the struggle by the residents of Plachimada against The Coca-Cola Company, an eminently concentrated form of capital, galvanized so much support in India and elsewhere, and that their struggle has been inspirational and played a significant role in generating opposition to The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo in other rural communities in India facing similar threats from transnational corporations.

While the Kerala plant was temporarily closed due to the popular protest, to this day the Plachimada continue their struggle to receive compensation for contamination and over-exploitation of water resources on their land. Coca-Cola has shifted their operations to other areas of southern India and continues to produce their fizzy drink in a region that regularly faces chronic drought. More than one hundred years since the slogan was first used, "Good Till the Last Drop" continues to have lasting relevance.

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The forgotten issues of environment crisis in Punjab elections


Friday, 09 February 2007

It is election time in Punjab. Parties are promising moon to the voters. Every body has started talking about development. Election manifestos are painting a rosy picture of a Developed Punjab. But, none of them is kind enough to tell what will be cost of this development?

This so-called development has already taken a heavy toll. Severe ecological and environmental health crises are quite visible in Punjab now. This environmental crisis has eclipsed the very sustainability, livelihood and the prosperity of the Punjab.  But, unfortunately no political party has taken serious note of this. None of the party manifesto has touched the environmental crisis in its real sense. Rather they are promising new gifts at the cost of ecological balance and long term sustainability of environment, agriculture and economy. 

The five year electoral system has made our politicians short sighted. They do not want to address the problems beyond this. Sustainability is not an issue for them at all. Making promises by ignoring ecological balance is a kind of bribe to get votes. Politicians are mere pampering the voters of today at the cost of lives of tomorrow. They may get power to govern, but Punjab will lose its natural resources ultimately, if these promises fulfilled unchecked. This trend needs to be questioned strongly. 

It is the high time to take up the issue of environmental health crisis, depleting water resources, prevalence of high pesticide residues and subsequently the ecological and agricultural sustainability of Punjab. Elections are providing an opportunity for this. Those who want to save Punjab from an offing environmental and agricultural chaos should ask political parties to spell out their agenda for the same. 

Punjab is fast exhausting its ground water aquifers. But politicians are promising more tube wells without owning any social and environmental responsibility. In 1970-71 there were only 1.92 lakh tube wells in Punjab, in 80-81 there were 6 lakh tube wells, and in 90-91 number went up to 8 lakh, 2000-01 again number rises upto 10 lakh and now there are about 14 lakh tube wells. In last four decades ground water exploitation has touched new heights in Punjab as area under irrigation through tube wells has gone up to as high as 78% and even more in 2000-01 from 37% in 1960-61. Cropping intensity has also increased from 126% to 185 % during this period. This means more and more dependency on ground water. 

From last two decades water security of Punjab is under severe threat. But none of government had taken any concrete step to save Punjab from water disaster. There was no holistic plan to tackle the emerging water crisis. Neither any government has taken any initiative to evolve a perspective, vision and plan for environmental and agriculture sustainability. Despite all odds area under rice cultivation has increased from just 6% to 60% in last forty years. This is not only unsustainable agricultural growth but it is against the very fragile ecological balance also. Thus the results are very disgusting.  In 1984 there were 53 blocks declared as dark zones, then in 1995 number of dark zones has increased upto 84 and in 2005 this figure further increased to 108 out of total 138 development blocks. Ground water level falling much faster then assumed. In 1973 only 3% area of Punjab has water table below 10 meters, it went up to 14.9% in 1989, 20% in 1992, and 28% in 1997, 53% in 2000, 76% in 2002 and in 2004 the situation goes beyond expectations when 90% area of Punjab is drawing water from the depth of more then 10 meters. 

More over 30% area of Punjab has depth of 20 meters or even more. This has also created the acute problem of drinking water in villages. In 1980 there are 3712 villages identified as drinking water problem villages, this figure went up to 6287 in 1990, and then in year 2000 the number goes as high as 8518 and as of now 11849 villages or habitations out of total 12423 in Punjab are facing drinking water problems. 

Now our worthy politicians are luring farmers by promising more tube wells. With new euphoria for constructing Malls, SEZs and mega construction projects, the ground water will further exploited without any check. Any government can sanction tube wells, it can provide free power for the same, or it can install any machinery for water purification. But question is from where the water will come? Any government can allow more and more exploration of ground water, which means more and more fast depletion of aquifers. But who will take responsibility to replenish and re-charge these aquifers?

How can we expect from any government to act on water crisis if there is no water policy as such and no action plan to mitigate water crisis. Punjab has no state water policy as of now. In 2004 a draft water policy was circulated with in governmental circles only and it is still not more than a draft. This draft policy is mere spoiled carbon copy of National Water Policy -2002. Interestingly, this water policy is already under fire for being instrument to paving way for privatization and corporatization    of water resources. More over this policy is meant to serve corporate interests rather then serving farmers and common people. Making water a sellable commodity has to have very serious repercussions. Several civil society groups are already demanding redrafting of National Water Policy 2002. Thus a state water policy draft copied from NWP can not be serve purpose at all.

Will the claimants of power in Punjab have any vision and perspective plan? Neither there had been a single minute of discussion in Punjab assembly on state water policy, nor does any political leader has raised the issue in or out side the house. It is important to know as to how many MLAs have got the copy of this draft water policy. Even those who are claming to be savior of Punjab water have not seen this document. This draft policy was all most kept secret and there was no public dialogue in any form on this has taken place. 

The water resources are not the property of our generation only. They belong to our future generations too. The water security of Punjab’s coming generations is already jeopardized. Punjab needs sustainability of water resources. Does any political party of Punjab dare to take up this issue? 

Another environmental issue need to be thoroughly discussed during and after elections, is the severe health crisis caused by environmental degradation and toxicity. Horrible environmental health crises have engulfed the vast area of the state, particularly the Malwa region, as cancer, reproductive health problems, early ageing and skeletal fluorosis has become very common. But most infamous disease is Cancer, which has taken lives of thousands of people. People had borrowed money for cancer treatment; they forced to sell their land, ornaments and tractors to save lives of their family members. But, the deadly cancer wins. Neither the lives were saved nor do they remain able to repay debt. It is a grim sorrow saga of whole of the Malwa and despite all tall claims and promises there is no respite for cancer sufferers and their family members.  

Now on the eve of elections both Akali Dal (Badal) and Congress (I) promised to open cancer hospital in Malwa region, but is it the real solution to the crisis? Cancer is mere one symptom of environmental degradation and presence of toxic substances in our environment and food chain. Opening up of a cancer hospital will serve though important but very limited purpose. It will treat the cancer patients, but certainly it will not undo the toxicity present in our eco-system. More over it will not check the high prevalence rate of cancer in all ages and sexes. We have to prevent cancer as prevention is always better than cure. Therefore we have to make environment free from toxicants, pesticides and other contaminators.

There are few more aspects of environmental health crisis
in Punjab. The reproductive health is in very serious trouble. Punjab has one of the highest numbers of Neural Tube Defect NTD babies, then growing infertility, deformities, congenital abnormalities, high birth rate of brainless children (80% among this are females), deteriorating semen quality, DNA and chromosomal damage, weakening of bones and joints due to water with high TDS causing serious spinal problems even in children and more worrisome is large scale female foetal loss.

Punjab has very high pesticide spry density. It consumes near 18% pesticides of whole of India on just 2.5% agricultural area of country. The entire food chain of Punjab contains residue of several pesticides. The data from All India Coordinated Research Project on Pesticidal Residue clearly indicates presence of DDT, HCH and BHC in cereals, milk, butter, fruits, vegetables and even infant formula. The edibles have residues of other pesticides like Phosphamidon, Quinalphos, Chlorpyriphos, Endosulfan, Malathion, Parathion, Monocrotophos and lindane. The presence of pesticides in blood as detected by Centre for Science and Environment also raises serious questions. CSE report states the presence of cocktail of 6 to 13 pesticides in blood samples. CSE also find organo-chlorine and residues of the newer and so-called ‘non-persistent’ pesticides – organophosphates in blood .This is a serious threat to the health of people of Punjab. This finding is disturbing because organophosphates are now getting added in body to the earlier contamination of organochlorines. These organophosphates have far higher toxicity than the older organochlorines. 

But our politicians have no time to discuss these issues. Even the two committees setup after CSE report came out were miserably failed to do any thing. The so-called high power committee headed by the Chief Minister did not held a single meeting. But, the opposition does not make this an issue. Then comes recommendations made by expert committee setup after PGIMER submitted its report on high prevalence of cancer cases in Talwandi Sabo block. These recommendations are not brought out in public. The apathy is not limited upto here. Punjab Pollution Control Board which had spent approximately Rs 15 lacs on this study has dumped the report. It is not published properly, only photocopies were distributed in a limited circle. Even the villagers of Talwandi Sabo block till date does not know what was written in that report. Because it was not translated in Punjabi, thus not circulated and neither its synopsis was distributed. But, again the opposition parties were also failed to take up this issue. Akali Dal – BJP or any other opposition party has not taken any clear stance on the crisis and neither any of them has questioned the role of Punjab government. No body knows how many politicians had gone through the PGIMER- PPCB report. It is also worth mentioning that Mr Manpreet Badal is committed to this issue in his personal capacity and he has also hosted a People’s dialogue on Environmental Health Crisis organised by Environmental Health Action Group of Kheti Virasat Mission at Badal village in August 2005. But as main opposition and a party Akali Dal seems to be lesser concerned because it’s other MLAs from Malwa region  does not shown any interest in the entire issue. Congress is seems to be satisfied with governmental action only and as the party it remains mum. Where as, BJP is no where in the scene at all. 

The pathetic situation of water resources and environmental health concerns ought to be raised in the elections. It is the issue of future generations of Punjab. The performance of politicians and political parties in Punjab should be evaluated on their concerns, commitment and actions for tackling the ecological crisis. Parties must bring out with their action plan to mitigate water and environmental health crisis. The voters should ask for the same.

After all, would be rulers should know the importance of understanding, vision and commitment for the issues of livelihood and ecological sustainability, water security and environmental health safety. Let us make the environment a voter’s agenda.  

Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission.  Jaitu, Faridkot district based environmental NGO in Punjab. Phone: 9872682161, E-mail: