Sarbjit Dhaliwal, Tribune News Service
Fund shortage and lack of concern, or at times will, on the part of the government were among the hurdles in the setting up of sewage treatment plants. Certain environmentally critical steps seen as ‘farmer unfriendly’ were also avoided.
The Planning Commission, which is keen to include environmental performance as a parameter in the criteria for the allocation of Central assistance, devised a model last year to build an Environmental Performance Index of various states. Punjab was down at the 27th spot, barely escaping being the bottom of the pile.
Another dubious distinction for the state is that it figures among states with the lowest forest cover. Against the national policy of having at least 33 per cent of the land area under forests, Punjab has only 5.1 per cent.
There is, thus, little doubt that Punjab’s environmental ecosystem is highly disturbed. And the ruling political class has to take the blame for that, as environment depends heavily on policy. The SAD-BJP government, despite taking certain initiatives, failed to tackle certain larger issues related to pollution.
Pollution generated by industries remained a major issue throughout the government’s tenure. Even as rivers received heavy dose of effluents, affecting vast areas downstream, the only sewage treatment plant (STP) set up in the entire Malwa region was in Ludhiana. Of the five big cities — Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Bathinda and Patiala — only the first two have partially working STPs. A rivulet carries the entire sewage of Amritsar city into Pakistan.
The government failed to fulfil its manifesto promise of making all major rivers free of effluents by November 30, 2011. “It hurts me when I see toxic effluents flowing into the Kala Sanghian, Budha Nullah and other drains. Even the treatment plant set up at the Leather Complex in Jalandhar at a cost of Rs 19 crore is not functioning properly,” Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal, a noted environmentalist, said.
Of the 137 municipal towns and cities, there was a programme to install municipal-waste STPs in 50, at an estimated cost of Rs 2,300 crore, which was to be given by the Centre. The process has been set in motion, though much remains to be accomplished. Most of these towns are located close to the Sutlej or the Beas river, the polluted waters of which have remained a major environmental concern.
Another Rs 3,000 crore is required to cover the remaining towns and cities. Earlier, towns had income from octroi, which was abolished years ago. Alternative funds under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission could not come as the SAD-BJP government did not impose water and sewer charges and property tax on certain sections of society, as required under the scheme.
There is 4,200 tonne of solid waste generated in various towns and cities of the state. For its scientific handling, the government proposed to divide the state into eight clusters to gather, segregate, process and dispose of the waste.
The process of acquiring land at eight places to set up dumping grounds was also completed. However, the scheme could not be implemented owing to lack of will on the part of the government, which failed to convince a section of sanitation employees that their jobs would not be threatened by the handing over of waste collection to contractors.
- Most electroplating units in Ludhiana and Jalandhar used to release effluents in the Budha Nullah and Kala Sanghian drain, respectively. However, with the Punjab Pollution control Board (PPCB) acting tough, a common treatment plant has been set up by the Ludhiana Electroplating Industries Society. About 43 lakh litre of toxic effluents used to flow into the drain in a month. This is now treated at nominal charges. Some Jalandhar-based industries too have started sending their effluents to the plant. Meanwhile, the PPCB has secured Rs 200 crore to expand the treatment plant at Foldiwal, near Jalandhar. n Raids by the PPCB have solved the problem of bio-medical waste to a large extent, as various hospitals have started segregating and disposing of such materials as per the laid down procedure.
n The manufacture of non-biodegradable polythene bags below certain thickness has been stopped. The board authorities have seized about 8,500 kg of such bags from various manufacturing units. n The SAD-BJP government showed firmness in issuing a notification banning the transplantation of paddy before June 15. This was done to check the cultivation of early varieties, which consumed a huge amount of groundwater ahead of monsoon.
… Not done
- The PPCB has been unable to rein in the dyeing industry, which continues to release effluents into rivulets. The government has offered these units 32 acres in Ludhiana to set up a treatment plant, but they have failed to pool the funds required.
- Many auto pollution check centres do not possess the required equipment, but have been issuing pollution clearance certificates, as district authorities have failed to check these. n The government failed to stop the plying of “over-aged” three-wheelers, numbering in thousands and a huge source of pollution. In all, there are more than 50 lakh vehicles in the state.
- The government has initiated the setting up of five more coal-based thermal power plants, even as the existing three are being blamed for playing havoc with the environment, especially the air and sub-soil water. Smoke and fly ash from these plants are the culprits.