An Overview of Ground Water Crisis in Punjab and Focused Social Efforts Needed For Its Solution

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In Sri Jap Nisan Sahib, Hazur Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji celebrates water as the basic origin of life: “ਪਵਣੁ ਗੁਰੂ ਪਾਣੀ ਪਿਤਾ ਮਾਤਾ ਧਰਤਿ ਮਹਤੁ॥” (Pawan Guru Pani Pita Mata Dhart Mahat). Similarly, Hazur Sri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji reminds us of the interconnectedness between the flourishing of life and water, “ਜਲ ਬਿਨੁ ਸਾਖ ਕੁਮਲਾਵਤੀ ਉਪਜਹਿ ਨਾਹੀ ਦਾਮ॥” (Jal Bin Saakh Kumlavati Upjahi Nahi Daam).

This is why prosperous civilizations have developed on the banks of water sources (rivers, lakes, streams, etc.) for millennia. The history of human civilization bears witness to the fact that those peoples living along bodies of water have paid the price of water with their blood.

Although water is a precious gift of nature, it has not been evenly distributed across the earth. In some parts of the world, there are deserts where water is scarce and elsewhere, fresh water is frozen as ice. Other regions have been given rainwater resources gathered in pits, slopes and ridges, while others have been blessed with fresh water rivers flowing from glaciers. Nature has endowed some regions with a treasure trove of life in the form of water.

Punjab is one such fortunate region which has been blessed with abundant water resources. Where there are natural reservoirs, rivers, and slopes, its rivers also bring clear ice water from the Himalayan glaciers in addition to the abundant water sources that have been available underground.

But this land of five rivers is on the verge of desolation today.

Today, Punjab is one of those regions where water is being depleted at an alarming rate. Punjab and Haryana are the only two states in the entire region whose water levels are decreasing at such a rapid pace. The ground water condition in about 80% of the rural development blocks of Punjab are marked as ‘over-exploited’.

It is estimated that by 2040, most of Punjab will be barren if things continue as they are.

Considering the gravity of the situation, we must consider the causes of the crisis.

One cause is related to climate change due to the unsustainable nature of capitalist development. Breaking from the Guru’s wisdom which reveres water as the source of life, bodies of water are now abused due to adopting a worldview which treats water simply as a “resource” for profit. As a result, there has been a significant decrease in rainfall due to global warming. The average rainfall in Punjab has now come down to 445 mm from 606 mm prior to 2000.

The second cause is the unsustainable domestic and industrial use of groundwater. Punjab has an average of less than 10% water treatment and reuse, compared to 80% in some other countries.

Third, a large portion of Punjab’s river waters is being plundered by non-riparian regions due to Punjab’s subjugation and exploitation by Indian imperialism. While Punjab now only has enough river water to irrigate 2,782,500 acres (approximately 25%) of Punjab’s land, Punjabi farmers are forced to draw their water from underground sources to irrigate about 7,500,000 acres (approximately 74%).

Last is the agricultural policy imposed by the Indian state which has led to the deterioration of the traditional farming model of Punjab. In service of Indian food security and state-building, Punjab has faced structural pressure to produce unsustainable amounts of rice paddy.

When the American model of agriculture was imposed by India in 1968, Punjab used to cultivate many crops including pulses, jowar, bajra, corn and sugarcane. Paddy was sown only in 785,000 acres (7% of the total area) whereas this number reached 7,666,000 (75% of the total area) by 2018.

According to agronomists, it takes 4,000 to 5,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of rice in Punjab. While the average ground water level in Punjab was up around 20 feet in 1970, it has now gone down to around 200 feet and up to 1000 feet in some places.

As a result, we must consider possible solutions to the pending crisis and assess their viability.

In this video Parmjeet Singh Gazi discusses all these aspects in detail.

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