Monthly Archives: July 2011

Sutlej flows down to Bahawalpur but with poisonous waters

Water passes down the Empress Bridge near Bahawalpur

By Riaz Missen

Sutlej River is flowing down the Empress Bridge, near Bahawalpur, due to heavy rains in northern India — thanks to the early arrival of the monsoon. More water is expected this year. Reports suggest that it was in high flood last week inHimachal Pradeshand the waters had reached Ferozepur district of Indian Punjab on July 9.

The people in Bahawalpur districtare pleasantly surprised to see waters in the Sutlej River, for it has become almost a dead stream due to Pakistan accepting India’s exclusive rights over it through the Indus Basin Treaty of 1960. The water table on its banks has sunk down to 120 ft which was available at 20 ft at times it used to carry floods.

The waters of Sutlej River are harnessed through a number of dams and canal headworks by India.Bhakra Dam is the major reservoir wherefrom canals carry its waters to Punjab and Haryana. Indira Gandhi canal carries the waters of Sutlej as far as Rajasthan. If something is left, it is diverted by Pakistan at headworks of Islam and Sulemanki constructed under Sutlej Valley scheme in 1927. It is only rarely that waters are released to reach Head Panjnad.

The waters of Ravi and Beas have also been added to Sutlej in India through link canals and are being used for the agricultural purpose. Intensive cultivation and the mushrooming of industry utilizing the agricultural produce in its catchment areahave made the Sutlej the most polluted river of South Asia. The unrestrained use of pesticides in agriculture and industrial waste being diverted to the river makes its water ‘E’ class in Doaba region.

The people in Farid Kot, who are using the waters of Sutlej to quench their thirst and to cater to the needs of agriculture, are developing deformities. A report of Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) prepared after various tests on the river’s waters, at various points in the 2010, rated Sutlej waters as ‘A’ class (pure) at Nangalheadworks, which become ‘E’ class and ‘D’ class (highly unfit for drinking) respectively at the confluence of BudhaNullah in Ludhiana and East Bein or Chitti Bein in the Doaba region.

Accumulation of chromium, nickel, zinc, and pesticides is high in the sediment of Chitti Bein. Traces of metals like chromium, nickel and zinc were detected in soil samples of the fields irrigated by the waters of the Bein. There is high level of inorganic and organic pollution in both the east Bein and the Kala Sanghia drain.

In Doaba region, Sanghia Drain is pouring polluted water intothe Chitti Bein because of untreated industrial and sewer waste from Jalandhar and Phagwara. The Beas also gets C class classification at Goindwal Sahib and Mukerian, where industrial waste is discharge into it. When Sutlej River enters Pakistan, Qasur’s tannery industry further pollutes it.

Sutlej waters are used by people both for quenching their thirst as well as of their livestock particularly in Rajasthan and Cholistan. The Vehari district also uses the waters of Sutlej River and here many cases of children developing deformities have been reported. Not only the fresh water is polluted but impurities have seeped down on the banks of the river and underground water is also affected.

 There is no solution to the problem which Sutlej River and the people using its waters are confronting but that the environmental regulations are strictly implemented. Punjab Environmental Board, on Indian side, is reported to impose heavy fines on industrial units releasing effluents into the river and its tributaries but no steps have been taken up by Pakistan to keep its tannery industry under check.

According to estimates 32 MAF wastewater, from urban areas and industries, joins streams, canals and rivers of Pakistan every year and destroys fisheries besides causing dangerous diseases like Hepatitis C. Luckily, environmental technologies (using bioremediation techniques), are available that can not only put an end to pollution of the wetlands but also make available enough water (treated) to cater to the entire needs of the wheat crop of Pakistan.

Weekly Pulse July 15, 2011