Water pollution has assumed alarming proportions in Punjab in recent years, but the lax authorities have often managed to dodge the long arm of the law. The registration of a case against the Ludhiana Mayor, Municipal Corporation (MC) Commissioner and other officers under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, is a step in the right direction. The case has been lodged by the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) — which has also imposed a Rs 50-lakh fine on the MC — on the directions of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). During a visit to the industrial city in May, an NGT team had found that a sewage treatment plant (STP) run by the MC at Jamalpur was non-functional, while another at Balloke was not being operated as per norms, leading to the discharge of untreated water into the Buddha Nullah, and in turn, into the Sutlej river.
Conveniently passing the buck, the Mayor has accused the PPCB of going soft on industries that discharge untreated effluents into the MC’s sewers and failing to expedite work on common effluent treatment plants. Amid the blame game, various stakeholders are missing the point that it is their joint responsibility to keep the water bodies clean. In November last year, the NGT had slapped a fine of Rs 50 crore on the Punjab Government for the pollution of Sutlej and Beas rivers due to unchecked industrial discharge. The tribunal had particularly taken a serious note of the large-scale deaths of fish due to molasses leakage from a sugar mill at Kiri Afghana village in Gurdaspur district in May 2018.
It’s regrettable that the authorities rouse themselves to action only when they are pulled up by the green panel. The prospect of a Kiri Afghana-like ecological disaster, besides a lethal epidemic of water-borne diseases, looms large. The onus is on the government to crack the whip on industries and civic bodies whose irresponsible actions are wreaking havoc on Punjab’s natural resources. Initiating proceedings under stringent provisions of the Water Act, including imprisonment that may extend to six years, can act as a potent deterrent.