For a land and people that claim to be as connected to agriculture and hence water, Punjab and the Punjabis are headed for a whole lot of trouble and they do not seem to do be doing anything about it.
Merely 57 per cent of the area was covered by tubewell irrigation two decades ago. Post-2000, when 75 per cent of Punjab is tubewell irrigated, deep tubewells have become an agrarian necessity given the way the static water level (SWL) is falling.
The water table is hurtling down not by centimetres or inches but, hold your breath, metres! And this is making the municipal councils scared, geologists tense and farmers petrified.
Rampant drilling of deep tubewells is a menace and installing a deep tubewell where a shallow one may suffice, amounts to compounding the danger. Hydrogeologists rue that more than the rampant drilling, it is the sheer thoughtlessness that is the more scary part. Citing an example from a village in Fatehgarh Sahib district, experts from the Punjab State Tubewell Corporation point out that a shallow tubewell with 20 m of tapped water-bearing zone could have achieved the purpose of drinking water supply. But the agencies drilled till 275 m and tapped 65 m of aquiferous zone to achieve their objective. “This is like using a cannon to kill a fly. Totally absurd,” says a geophysicist.
(Source - http://www.tribuneindia.com/2004/20040216/agro.htm#1
Yet no one seems to care or wishes to stand up and make this is a priority issue.
And if you thought that water was an issue only for agriculture and not for citizens of the state, then you are as mistaken as I was when I came across the following statistics:
The issues involved in urban administration have thrown the machinery of urban governance in deep crisis, admits the Minister of Urban Development, Mr Jagmohan. He states: “At present there is no sanitation worth the name for 52 per cent of the urban population. The sewerage system covers only 35 per cent of the population of Class IV cities and 75 per cent of population of Class I cities. About 34 per cent of the urban population does not have any arrangement even for the drainage of rain-water around its habitats. Nearly 60 per cent of the municipal bodies in India collect less than 40 per cent of the urban waste, which is allowed to decompose and putrefy on the road-side and around houses and factories. Quite a substantial portion of it goes into the drains, choking them and creating slush and stink all around, besides providing breeding ground for pests, flies and mosquitoes and cockroaches.”
The facts are indeed painful and ominous. Urban congestion in India is the highest in the world. About 19 per cent of the Indian families live in less than 10 square metres of space, and about 44 per cent of the families in urban areas live in one room only. About 35 per cent of the city population lives in slums. The slums and squatters’ population has been increasing at a rate more than double the growth rate of the overall cities’ population. There are more fatalities each year from road accidents in India than in the USA, though India has only one-twentieth of road vehicles as compared to the States. The nation’s Capital is the fourth most polluted city of the world. The level of suspended particulate matter in the air exceeds the safe limits even in rather smaller cities of Amritsar, Ludhiana and Mandi Gobindgarh of the basically agrarian state of Punjab.
The dust-load in air in the Indian cities is the highest in the world. The polluted air has been responsible for causing a large number of premature deaths, according to a World Bank study. It is estimated that those suffering from air and water-borne diseases occupy about 80 per cent of the beds in our city hospitals. A study conducted by the National Physical Laboratory revealed that Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta were the noisiest cities of the world. Clearly, the reforms process has not succeeded in achieving its objective.
(Source - http://www.tribuneindia.com/2000/20001025/edit.htm#4
Yet once again, there is some one (and perhaps many more that I am not aware of) that are choosing to make a difference.
Dr Raghbir Singh Bassi (a Harvard graduate in Finance and Business Administration who has risen to the position of Vice-Chancellor of Alaska Pacific University) and Dr Gurdev Singh Gill (studied medicine in Canada and became the first doctor of Indian origin to start a private practice. But he soon got involved in community work in Vancouver for which he was awarded the ‘Order of British Columbia.’) contributed Rs 50 lakh from their own funds. They presented a complete plan to the then Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal about how their project would make Kharaudi a model village.
However when it came to implementation of the project, they soon found out the extent of corruption at the local authorities. For instance, for replacing broken galvanized iron pipes of water supply, these officials gave an estimate of Rs 8 lakh. We found it to be too high and went ahead with our own effort. We completed the work at a cost of Rs 1.50 lakh. Similarly, for laying of the sewerage line in the village they gave us an estimate of Rs 22 lakh. We again found it to be exaggerated and went ahead with our own costing and succeeded in completing not only the sewerage line but also the connections to 200 houses in mere Rs 11 lakh."
Dr Gill and Dr S. S. Bassi (Dr Raghbir Singh Bassi’s younger brother), began working on the project titled "Nurture your roots" in September 1999 and within three years the village has got transformed astonishingly (project completed 2004). Today, it has concrete streets connecting each house. The sewerage line flows through the village with a concrete cover on it. Each house has an outlet into it. Unlike most of our state government’s half-baked ideas of engineering, the sewerage water has not been allowed to pollute at its final disposal point. Only 240 towns in a country of 1 billion people have this kind of a sewage plant.
The project includes the "Sewerage Water Treatment Plant" (SWTP), which will enable the VLIB to reuse this water for fishery and irrigation of fields. The income generated will be given to the panchayat and the maintenance committee.
The very idea of the SWTP not only lasts for ages but also is relatively far cheaper in cost. The technology too is simple. The entire sewage of the village is made to flow into a large covered septic tank outside the village. In this tank, anaerobic bacteria are produced on their own and thrive on the chemicals in the sewerage. This bacterium does not need oxygen but feeds only solids. It thus cleans the water up to 85 per cent. From this tank, the water is made to flow into a smaller tank, which is laid with perforated pipes covered with nylon filters and three feet of rubble. It is further covered with three inches of sand and three inches of mud. Thus when the water is filtered from this entire process it is as clear as tap water. This water is made to flow into an eight-foot-deep pond, where a fishery project is proposed. The excess water is used for irrigation. In Kharaudi, the VLIB has already completed the entire process. It has also introduced solar streetlights, which light up the entire village like any other urban city. The VLIB has also opened a primary school up to Class V, which runs like any other private public school enabling children to have access to uniform and equal education. The board proposes to upgrade it up to Class VIII.
Interestingly, the VLIB is not a formation of NRIs alone. As Dr Gill and Dr S. S. Bassi put it, "The lower rank bureaucracy wanted us to open a joint bank account with them by putting in our share of Rs 50 lakh. But once we realised that corruption was rampant, we decided against it. That’s when we formed the VLIB. We wanted the villagers of Kharaudi to be emotionally and practically as involved in the project as we were. So many activists from the village were made an integral part of the board. Now it is a joint effort. We come every winter, as summers are unbearable. We personally work on the sites but once we leave, the local members of the board complete the specific assignments given to them and there is a monitoring of each work in our absence. That is how we have been able to achieve our targets in record time."
The VLIB has cleared the entire shamlat land of wild growth. On this available patch of land, it has built a beautiful park and in the middle of it, the statute of village martyr Arjan Singh ‘Sach’, who was jailed for 12 years during India’s struggle for freedom, has been erected. He was a comrade of Shaheed Bhagat Singh.
This park has been named Sach di Kharaudi. For the park project, Arjan Singh’s son and daughter also donated money. Once the park was ready, Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s younger brother, Kultar Singh, was invited to inaugurate it. While the villagers are very proud of this park, the younger generation has someone to look up to as a hero. While all this work was on in Kharaudi, the state government machinery, as usual, dilly-dallied about releasing the matching grants as had been promised. Even when the bulk of the work is near completion, the government has released only Rs 22 lakh so far. When the Primer of British Columbia, Ujjal Dosanj, was visiting Punjab, he went specially to Kharuadi, as he was aware of Dr Gill and Dr Bassi’s involvement in it. After he and Badal saw the amazing work on the ground, the Chief Minister promptly announced Rs 10 lakh as grant. Fortunately, this cheque was handed over to the board the very next day.
Meanwhile, a "Pillar of Appreciation" is also under construction in the middle of the village. This pillar will carry the names of donors of Kharaudi, who have given more than Rs 1 lakh each or more. At present, all such names are written on the wall of a gurdwara. The VLIB has also ensured that all telephone lines are under the ground. Today, almost every house in the village has a phone.
The indefatigable Dr Gill says, "Our idea is not to stop at our village alone. We wish to spread it to more villages and then to the whole of Punjab. We are planning to adopt seven more villages around Kharaudi."
Individual NRIs have done remarkable work for the welfare of these surrounding villages. For instance, Pammi Bains, in his village, Bharata Ganeshpur, has constructed a modern mortuary, which can house six bodies. "His mother had died but her body could not be preserved as there was no mortuary here. That is why, unfortunately, he could not be present at his mother’s cremation. It was his personal tragedy that made him build this mortuary, which is now available to anyone free of cost. But we would like a collective effort to optimise the improvement in village lifestyle."
Dr Gill’s efforts have already borne fruit. The Canadian International Development Agency, which is spending $30 million in the Indian subcontinent alone, has not spent a penny in Punjab. Dr Gill approached Herb Dhaliwal, the Minister for Fisheries in Canada, and once the latter learnt about the Kharaudi project and its proposed idea of a fishery, he agreed to involve 10 more villages in similar projects.
In addition to the project undertaken and completed at Kharoudi, a similar project has also been completed at Village Barhampur, Ludhiana (project commenced in October 2003 and completed in January 2005).
In the winter of 2005, work on two new projects at the villages of Jian and Dingrian will commence.
In recognition of the work that Dr Gill has done, CIDA, the Canadian International Development Authority has provided financial assistance in the expenditure incurred in the projects so far. This makes the ICFSBC (Indio Canadian Friendship Society of British Columbia) one of the very few NGO’s/charities that has received CIDA funding for a project in Punjab, India.
Should any of you folks have a serious proposal for your own village, please contact Dr Gill at email@example.com
and for additional information please visit http://www.icfsbc.com/
Source - http://www.tribuneindia.com/2002/20020323/windows/main1.htm