Satluj River-Lifeline of North West India
Punjab is a land of rivers and rivulets, and man-made extensive canal systems. Its major river, Satluj, considered almost comparable to Ganges in sacral terms by many, is lifeline of Punjab and other States sharing its waters. It begins its journey from springs and snow melts high in Tibet and meanders through plains of Punajb, joined by many rivulets on the way, and river Beas at Harike Pattan, flows to Indus delta finally to drain into the Indian Ocean. As it journeys southwards, its waters are diverted for irrigation, flood control, power generation, industrial and municipal uses. However, declining river flow quantities and water quality threaten the survival of various activities nourished by it. The major demands on surface water are created and amplified by population growth in the region. However, the spurt in economic growth after independence increased opportunities for water quality degradation and toxic metallic and chemical contamination mainly due to industrial and municipal wastes.
The sources of pollution can be categorized as point and non-point. The point sources are industrial units and human settlement that directly throw highly polluted, untreated waste water into the river and indirectly through its tributaries. The major point polluters are industrial units in Ludhiana, an industrial hub, and other towns situated along the river. On top of it run offs contaminated by pollutants from non-point sources are picked up by the river and its tributaries as it travels downwards.
Human health risks arise from constant long- term consumption of untreated or poorly treated water directly and indirectly through the food cycle by use of such water for irrigation. The less understood consequence of prolonged use of polluted water for irrigation is petrifaction of soil, rendering it totally unfit for cultivation.
Water is essential to life. Besides human beings, wildlife and ecosystems need it for survival. The availability of fresh water is increasingly becoming a serious problem the world over. No doubt, water is quintessential a renewable resource because of hydrologic cycle, but global water consumption has increased many fold during last six decades or so while the increasing demand remains unabated. The northwest region of India exemplifies this phenomenon due to increasing economic activity and demand for direct consumption, Because of climate variability and change, and economic development, water, scarcity and poor water quality are threatening the region.
However, scarcity and pollution linked directly to poor water management, require not only good engineering, but also science-based analyses, efficient institutions and policies to ensure efficient utilization, and cooperation among stake holders. The entire region would suffer due to increasing scarcity of water and its deteriorating quality in the absence of remedial measures. In any case, increased demand and limited supply often give rise to array of conflicting interests: between rural and urban areas, between upstream and downstream users and between regions. So the entire northwest region would suffer if urgent remedial measures are not taken. Problems stemming farm growth are overdrawing of ground water, polluted run offs from municipal and industrial areas, and dumping of millions of gallons of sewage into the rivers every day. Clearly, the social dilemma of 'commons' manifests in problems of pollution. Here it is not the question of taking something out of the commons but putting something in sewage, and toxic metallic and chemical waste into water. A rational man finds that his share of cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them. Since this is true for everyone, we face a serious social dilemma so long as everyone behaves only as an independent, selfish, rational economic agent. In such a situation, individual rationality results in collective irrationality. For the benefit of everyone, collective rationality has to prevail through social action. However, as city officials and state agencies are not going to take any substantial action to improve conditions of the river, the heavy economic and social cost will fall on the citizens unless they stand up to force concerned agencies to take action.
The main challenge facing Punjab is to execute practices which would enable future generations to enjoy its natural resources, while meeting the legitimate needs of current generations. The challenge is quite overwhelming considering the current population pressures, the degraded aquatic life, its declining ground water resources and variability in water availability.
Communities along the Satluj and canals are in danger of their water quality degrading at an increasing rate due to activities along the river. The raw sewage in millions of gallons per day from human settlements along the river is increasing pollution constantly creating almost a situation of crisis. Most of these settlements do not have adequate waste water treatment system. The remedial measure would require massive social action involving both state agencies and communities. Further, the outdated institutions controlling water resources need to be adjusted to changes in the socio-economic environment suggesting that all stake holders have a voice in how water is managed.
In addition, state agencies should be required to hold hearings, prepare environmental status reports and make them public and allow public to participate in the decision making process.
Sustainability must be a goal of formal institutions as well as citizens. This would require improvement in efficiency in use of water by introducing new methods of irrigation such as drip irrigation and sprinkle irrigation. The subsidies for introducing their methods are available from the central government. The sprinkle irrigation is most suited to horticulture. Nevertheless, there is urgent need to rationalize existing subsidy regime to power users. Practices that promote inefficiency in use of water need to be reviewed.
In any case conscious decision needs to be made to favour activities that incur minimum social costs or give high social returns. This in turn would provide incentive for water conservation. Also charging user true cost and value of water will result in better decision making practices.
Additional questions that need to be addressed are: what agricultural activity is most appropriate for the state. Should the government continue to subsidise cultivation of rice? What additional opportunities can be created by furthering efficiency in water use?
Finally, considering the water needs of the region, especially of fast developing national capital region, underdeveloped water resources of Yamna River flowing in eastern Haryana, a part of composite Punjab need to be urgently developed for flood control, power generation, irrigation and drinking. This would require building dams on the river up stream by some interstate agency or the central government.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2017, All