While Thames was cleaned after radical measures were taken, the nullah in this industrial town is crying for a project similar to the one used to clean the Ganges.
It seems much water has flown under the bridge as the toxins of Buddha Nullah are entering our food chain, calling for more effective and immediate measures, as the under-capacity effluent treatment plants have failed to serve the purpose.
A study conducted jointly by the scientists of PAU, led by Dr Gurdev Singh Hira, former additional director, research, and Dr GPI Singh, head of Community Medicine DMCH, says, “There is evidence of presence of toxins and heavy metals in the food chain as vegetables and other crops cultivated in the areas along the water course are irrigated with this water.”
Studies conducted by the School of Public Health, Department of Community Medicine, PGIMER, Chandigarh, in collaboration with the Punjab Pollution Control Board confirm the findings of the PAU study.
The study indicates presence mercury, cadmium, chromium, copper and lead in vegetables being grown alongside the length of Buddha Nullah. “In villages along the nullah, calcium, magnesium, fluoride, mercury, beta-endosulphan and heptachlor were found to be more than permissible limit (MPL) in ground and tap waters. Besides the effluents, the water has high concentration of COD and BOD (chemical and biochemical oxygen demand), ammonia, phosphate, chloride, chromium, arsenic and chlorpyrifos. The ground water also contains nickel and selenium, while the tap water has high concentration of lead, nickel and cadmium,” the study says.
The study adds that heptachlor, beta-endosulphan and chlorpyrifos pesticides were found in concentrations exceeding the maximum residue limit in samples of ground and canal water used for drinking. Pesticides were also detected in fodder, vegetables, blood, bovine and human milk samples, indicating that these have entered the food chain due to the use of agricultural run-off and irrigation of field with drain water.
The deadly water of the nullah is affecting the south-western areas of Punjab, which depend solely on the canal water for irrigation. B S Sidhu, Director, Agriculture, says, “When we open the canals, the first water that gushes out is of Buddha Nullah. At Harike waterworks, it spreads into various canals that are the lifeline of the area. Hence, areas like Malout, Zira, upper Lambi, those being fed by Sirhind feeder, are the most-affected. The dirty water has not only affected the agriculture produce, but also the groundwater.”
Ashwani Kumar Soni of PAU’s Department of Civil Engineering, says, “There is no natural water in the nullah. The entire population of Ludhiana and the industrial houses are disposing waste in this water body.”
Birinderjit Singh, Member Secretary, PPCB, says, “To treat the nullah water, we need a sewage treatment capacity of at least 150 million gallons per day (750 MLD) added with a realistic expansion factor, commensurate with constantly increasing population.”
Soni adds, “The sewage treatment plants at Jamlapur, Nalloke and Bhattian have a combined capacity of 311 MLD.”
Impure for sure
The nullah water is very turbid with very low dissolved oxygen. It has high concentration of chemicals and heavy metals and heavy microbiological load in the form of bacteria, an indicator of faecal contamination, and there is absence of aquatic flora and fauna. This water is added to Sutlej river.
Another drain defiled
What Ludhiana industry did to Buddha nullah, the steel units of Mandi Gobindgarh are doing to a local drain near Khanna. This drain passes through a small cluster of villages near Amloh, which is also a vegetable belt. The farmers use the dirty water to irrigate their crops. Strangely, neither the State Department of Agriculture nor the Punjab Pollution Control Board is aware of this.