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Canada Punjab: A DYING CIVILISATION?

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by Hardip Singh, Jul 22, 2010.

  1. Hardip Singh

    Hardip Singh India
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    The repeat of devastation of Sindhu Valley Civilization
    By Umendra Dutt
    About two years ago my friend the famous singer Rabbi Shergill in one of his
    Punjabi article says “There is no doubt that it was just because of a major
    environmental change that the great civilization of Indus valley had
    completely vanished. The same reasons, in the same form are today existed
    before us. The only difference between the both situations is this that in
    those times it was a natural disaster but this time it is of man made”.

    Rabbi equated present situation of Punjab with Sindh valley which destroyed
    because of water scarcity.
    Rabbi concluded his article by saying ‘Sindh ghaatti aj fir maran nu tyaar
    hai’ which means Sindh valley is again prepared to die “Will this really
    happen?” I asked my co-passengers “Of course, it is a degrading environment
    and a dying civilization in Punjab; a whole community has been put to slow
    death” affirmed Dr Amar Singh Azad, my senior colleague in Kheti Virasat
    Mission. “It is a crime committed against humanity and nature by our own
    governments, that too in the name of Development”, I said, endorsing his
    observation. All of us were very upset and angry after visiting villages
    near Dhakansu drain and Ghaghar River in Patiala and Sangrur districts.
    This was our third visit to a river or drain area to educate ourselves on
    environmental toxicity and its multiple impacts. About eight years ago, I
    did a padayatra along the Jayanti River in Ropar district. I found several
    similarities between the disappearance of Jayanti and Ghaghar rivers. Both
    rivers have lost their relevance after society forgot and neglected the
    significance of these rivers
    . The river eco-system was ruined at both places
    by the developmental activities carried out by “modern society”. Our latest
    Yatra was a field visit to learn more on the crisis of water, environmental
    toxicity, condition of agriculture, biodiversity, the unfolding health
    crisis and the socio- economic fallout of this ecological disaster.
    The entire picture is extremely frightening. There has been a lot of debate
    on the severe health and water tragedy apparent in the districts of Malwa
    region. But we should correct our view point – it is the whole of Punjab
    that seems to be under deadly devastation now. Some of our well-wishers ask
    us again and again that – “Why are you activists bent on such
    scare-mongering around these things?” I would like to repeat the words of Dr
    Azad here – “Yes, we want to create a scare, because the situation is far
    more destructive and scary than our government and people can ever imagine.
    It is a life and death question for Punjab; it is clearly evident that
    Punjab is a dying civilization
    . Several people may find this offending, ugly
    and uncalled for. However, the indications that we are getting from across
    Punjab point to a death sentence written for the whole eco-system in this
    part of the country and particularly for this brave community.
    ‘Villages up for sale’ are a unique symbol of distress and devastation in
    Punjab …..It was a first-of-its- kind protest in India at that time. In March
    2002, Harkishanpura of Bathinda district put itself up for sale and then Mal
    Singh Wala of Mansa district followed in 2005. Both of these villages are
    situated in cotton belt of Malwa. Both have a common reason -– the Water
    crisis. It was a desperate step that was taken by the villagers. Now, this
    water distress has engulfed the villages of the apparently ‘eco-prosperous’
    area of Puadh. A village in Patiala district near Chandigarh – Mirzapur
    Sandharsi is contemplating putting itself up for sale. The reason is the
    same “waterlessness” that has now become a nightmare for this village too.
    After reading reports in the media, we visited this village – what was
    bluntly visible and extremely disturbing to find is that Punjab is fast
    turning into a waterless region. It can be Harkishanpura, Mandi Khurd or
    MalSingh Wala or Teja Rohella, Dona Nanka near Fazilka or Mirzapur Sandharsi
    - villages after villages are caught in the grip of a severe water crisis.
    There are several indicators to confirm what Dr Amar Singh Azad said about
    Punjab being a dying civilization. The disturbing symptoms of this slow
    death are common, in a journey from Mirzapur Sandharsi, Harpalpur to Shahpur
    Theri and Makrod Sahib in Sangrur. I wondered how accurate is forecast made
    by Rabbi Shergill.
    The symptoms are: severe, multiple environmental toxicity, drinking water
    crisis due to drying-up of upper aquifers and rapid deterioration of the
    groundwater situation all over the state, water quality going drastically
    down with multiple kinds of contamination, destruction of river eco-systems
    and vanishing aquatic life, loss of biodiversity and crop diversity,
    increasing health problems particularly those related to reproductive
    health, declining immune capacity, early ageing and cancers etc.
    Disturbingly, the same pattern of health problems is being found in domestic
    animals: farmers repeatedly reported that animals are unable to conceive and
    if they conceive they abort frequently. Further, the all-round crisis is
    also reflecting itself in agriculture and agricultural livelihoods: falling
    agriculture productivity, increase in external inputs and rising debts,
    growing disconnect between farmer and his/her land, farmers selling their
    farms and lastly, emergence of loss of self- confidence and self-esteem
    amongst the affected people to tackle the situation.
    I often say in Punjabi that Punjab is fast turning into Be-aab and Punjabis
    of Be-aab Punjab are bound to become Be-abaad (displaced). I find that
    Mirzapur Sandharsi and nearby villages are an apt illustration for this
    idiom. Surinder Singh, Sarpanch of Mirzapur Sandharsi told us, “There is no
    proper water; this water crisis has forced us to sell our land. We are ready
    to sell even our village”.
    As there is no water left in two upper aquifers – at 70 feet and 150 feet
    respectively – villagers are facing a lot of hardship to meet even basic
    requirement of water. Around ten years back, the 70-feet aquifer began to go
    dry and about five years ago, water started disappearing from the 150-feet
    aquifer also. “We are forced to increase the lowering by 12 to 20 feet every
    year”; told Harbans Singh, Chairman of village Cooperative Society. “When
    Ghaghar was alive about 20 year back, there was no such problem. As Ghaghar
    died slowly, this water crisis engulfed our area”.
    Now villagers are forced to draw water from third aquifer to be found at the
    depth of about 400 feet, but unfortunately at many places this aquifer is
    having water unfit to even irrigate their farms, so it is of little use.
    Even if it is fit for irrigation, it is very costly to draw it and more over
    how long will it last. After all it is ‘Fossil Water’. It is going to be
    exhausted. What after that? No body is able to answer.
    Farmers are able to grow wheat and paddy but with this hard water,
    vegetables cannot be grown. It’s very difficult to find anyone growing
    vegetables from last ten years in the village. “We forgot the taste of our
    own grown vegetables”, said a farmer. This is a common trend in all villages
    of this area where purchasing vegetables from cities is common. Earlier,
    farmers here used to grow several kinds of vegetables for sale in the market
    as well as self-consumption. Now, they don’t cultivate vegetables in several
    villages of Ghannour area of Patiala district. Farmers from Harpalpur gave a
    more pitiable picture: “Earlier we use to sell our vegetables in Rajpura and
    Chandigarh markets; now, because the water quality has deteriorated, we are
    not able to cultivate vegetables anymore. Farmers will tell you the same
    story in villages like Shahpur Theri, Mandavi, Chandu, Makorad Sahib and
    Foold. Everywhere, farmers have turned into buyers of vegetables from being
    producers. This is sign of loss of household food and nutritional security.
    This has also put an economic burden on them”.
    The average wheat yield dropped drastically in the last few years in all
    villages we visited. Farmers reported getting yields as low as 5 quintals
    per acre of wheat. ‘As groundwater is going deeper and deeper, it is also
    losing its quality. This affects crops and their yields often.’ It is a
    common perception of farmers from different villages. This has another
    impact -manifold increase in usage of chemical fertilizers, making
    agriculture more expensive now. All of this makes the farm economics
    unviable, with farmers becoming more indebted. Almost all the agricultural
    land here is mortgaged! “We were happy and prosperous those days, using
    Ghaghar water and getting higher yields in comparison to today. We used to
    grow Basmati about 15- 20 years back with very less water from Ghaghar and
    used to obtain 16 to 20 quintals per acre, 14 to 16 quintals of wheat and
    even 10 to 12 quintals of pulses. We had these results without using any
    Urea in our fields.” said Gyani Subeg Singh, a 70-year old farmer from
    village Shahpur Their.
    Loss of agro-biodiversity is another issue of concern. It was found that in
    the last 20 years, there has been a drastic loss in agro-biodiversity.
    Earlier, most of farmers used to grow pulses. Slowly, as yields started
    declining, they stopped producing pulses. It was found that earlier,
    diversity-based farming was the main approach. Farmers grew Corn, Basmati,
    Cotton, Sugarcane, Wheat, Mustard, Pearl Millet, Barley, Pigeonpea, Moong,
    Masar, Moth, Alsi, Til, Tara-Mira, Gwara, Arhar and Chilies.
    Farmers reported that all these crops were grown without any chemical inputs
    simply by irrigating their farms with Ghaghar water. But as Ghaghar has gone
    dry, the biodiverse farming system which flourished here for hundred of
    years also dried up. Farmers’ real wealth – water and soil – was plundered.
    This has also eroded traditional knowledge system of farming in this area.
    Now farmers are using high amount of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and
    weedicides. They are now so obsessed with chemical farming that they lost
    self confidence. “We cannot grow any thing without chemicals. We know it is
    poison – but we have no other alternative” said Jaswant Singh of Shahpur
    Theri, while preparing to apply chemical fertilizers in his farm.
    When asked about debt situation, Harvinder Singh, Youth Club President of
    Shahpur Theri says with grief, “Death of Ghaghar has destroyed both our
    wealth and health. Now, the entire village is under debt. Not a single acre
    of land is free from loan. Several farmers were forced to sell their farm
    land. About 35 to 40 people sold their entire property and shifted out of
    the village. Several farmers are now working as landless laborers”.
    This situation is reminiscent of my earlier experience in Mirzapur Sandharsi
    and Harpalpur. In these villages, a large number of farmers had already sold
    their land. When I asked farmers at Harpalpur in Patiala what they thought
    of Mirzapur Sandharsi villagers putting up their village for sale, more than
    three farmers replied at once in a collective voice – “We are also ready to
    sell our village.” Then one farmer added “Why talk about only these two
    villages – the whole belt of around 40 villages is up for sale though we are
    not declaring it openly. But if we get a chance, we are all ready to quit
    agriculture and move out of here”. Everyone sitting there supported his
    views. These farmers no more feel any attachment to their village. Sadly,
    the cord of affinity with their land no longer exists.
    The most painful experience we have had in this tour is that of the murder
    of a river and her bounties. It was the case of entire society breaking away
    from its water heritage
    . Everybody whom we met during our visit told us -
    “Once Ghaghar River used to be full of life and we used to drink Ghaghar
    water about 20 years back – it used to be clear, sweet and tasty”. Vaid
    Piyara Singh (55) of Makrodr Sahib said with unshed tears in his eyes:
    “Ghaghar was clean and the whole village used to drink its water; I used to
    drink Ghaghar water almost every day while returning from fields – I never
    experienced any problem with that – that was about 20 years back”.
    In village Phoolad, which is just 300 meters from Ghaghar we got to know
    that except two young men, all the persons sitting in front of us had once
    been able to drink directly from the river.
    “Fish from Ghagar used to be quite famous once upon a time; people used to
    come from far away to purchase fish here. Thousands of fish of different
    species, small and big tortoises and so on used to be present in large
    numbers in Ghaghar. Ghaghar died right in front of our eyes”, said Kulwant
    Singh (52) of Makrodr Sahib with visible grief on his face.
    In adjoining Chandu village, all households used to irrigate their farms
    from Ghaghar water, but now they are forced to look for other options.
    “Earlier our animals would go there for grazing, bathing and drinking
    Ghaghar water, but now we cannot even think of it. It is acid only.” said
    Vaid Subhash (37).
    The entire belt of villages on the bank of Ghaghar in Sangrur district was
    using Ghaghar water not only for irrigation but also for domestic usage.
    Some people also pointed out that the river bed had several springs like
    Nadiya Taal from where they got water throughout the year. There were large
    numbers of Dhaak and Dhaki trees, Jand, Kiker, and bushes of Duaansa. This
    indicates that along with destruction of Ghaghar the native plants and trees
    also got ruined.
    “In those days, several species of birds were found; now we hardly see even
    common birds like the crow or the sparrow. They are all gone”. We heard this
    almost everywhere that we went. Many report that the number of birds in this
    area has gone down. Dr Azad kept muttering that this is our Silent Spring
    unfolding in Punjab. I am speechless since the picture emerging in front of
    us was a hopeless picture of doom.
    In every village we had also enquired about existence of honeybees and
    earthworms and unfortunately got the similar answer indicating more vast
    destruction of life – ‘Now honeybees and earthworms are almost gone, we
    hardly see any hive around our villages’ villagers told us. Every time when
    we got negative answer about presence of honeybees, Dr Azad reminds me
    famous prediction of Albert Einstein, “If the bee disappears from the
    surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”
    Like earthworms and honeybees several other insects were thrown out of web
    of life. And the younger generation of farmers even does not know the names
    of several friendly-insects.
    In spite of floods every year, Ghaghar was generous with life and
    prosperity. Now it appears that hell is flowing here and villagers are
    forced to live with the situation. They reported that Ghaghar got polluted
    some years back with toxic effluents from a factory at Main near Patiala and
    Chambowali drain which joins Ghaghar at Chandu village. The water is black,
    with bad smell and with no life at all. The water, if touched, produces
    irritation, itching and skin rashes, it was explained. We do not even dare
    to touch it where we used to earlier be able to drink the water, they said.
    Punjab is going to be a state of sick people highly dependent on medicines”,
    Dr Azad keeps saying again and again. His words were reinforced during this
    tour as we had personally witnessed a massive health crisis all around. What
    we have witnessed during this study visit has reaffirmed our earlier
    hypothesis that Punjab is being subjected to multiple environmental
    toxicity. Every village we had visited illustrates the same tragedy.
    As Dr Azad often says, “The whole ecosystem of the earth is interwoven in a
    web of highly sensitive and complex interdependence; any toxin in the
    environment – air, water and soil – affects all forms of life right from the
    microbes to human beings. Wherever toxicity is high, humans, cattle, wild
    animals, other living forms including microbes and plants are gravely
    affected. Punjab today is witnessing the whole spectrum of ill effects on
    human health shown through various studies, of such contamination. The
    immunity of Punjabis is being ruthlessly damaged”.
    In each village we visited, people reeled out high numbers of cancer deaths
    in addition to a long list of cancer patients under medication. What we got
    from villagers is shocking data regarding cancers, raising infertility and
    other reproductive health disorders, increasing number of neurological
    disorders, allergies and impaired immunity. As farmers gave this information
    to us while sitting in front of us by recalling names, the possibility of
    errors must certainly be there; however, this is an indicator that cancer is
    on the rise while reproductive health is deteriorating fast, that too in all
    parts of Punjab. We found quite a large number of issueless couples, cases
    of miscarriages, spontaneous abortions and premature deliveries; in each
    village, we also found cases of neurological disorders Children with mental
    retardation and congenital abnormalities, cerebral palsy, autism, ADHD, ADD,
    learning and behavioral disabilities and so on were identified. It is hard
    to believe that the list of illnesses is much longer then we thought.
    Skin diseases are also very common in all villages; Dr Azad points out that
    this is a sign of impaired immune system in people of Punjab. We also found
    large number of patients with kidney problems, stones in kidney and gall
    bladder, digestive system disorders etc.
    This starkly visible disease pattern can be correlated to the toxicity load
    caused by environmental toxicity and prevalence of toxins in our eco-system
    and food chain. During group discussions, it was also noticed that number of
    young deaths in last ten years is on the rise. Though it may be because of
    other reasons too, a young death is an indicator that something is seriously
    wrong in Punjab.
    Poisoning of ecology has a deep impact on animal health as well. The status
    of animal health in these parts seems to indicate that the toxicity
    everywhere has reached its threshold level. People reported that apart from
    human beings, cows and buffalos are also losing reproduction capacity. They
    observe lesser lactation period and lesser reproduction cycles. It has come
    down to 5 from 15 reproduction cycles. More and more cows and buffalos are
    becoming sterile. These animals are unable to conceive and miscarriages and
    abortions are increasing amongst these animals. At least 70% animals have
    become unproductive and sterile, people reported. Their milk productivity is
    also going down. Moreover, even horses are reported to be getting sterile.
    Some farmers observe that desi hens are not able to lay eggs properly.
    When the villages had pasture lands, the animals used to give more milk,
    they recall; now, the animals are falling sick and dying. These animals
    cannot go to Ghagar now and farmers have to run pumps for water, which adds
    to the financial burden of the families. “We are ruined due to the poisonous
    water that was allowed to flow in Ghaghar”, they say.
    But question is – who is responsible for this ecological destruction? How
    are we going to restore justice to river Ghaghar, her inhabitants and
    Nature? Who is to be blamed for subjecting this whole area to this severe
    environmental health crisis? What has killed River Ghaghar and its thousands
    of animals, fishes, tortoises, birds and other creatures?
    The answer is very simple – our Development model obsessed with high GDP.
    The factories of liquor and wine at Banaur, Patiala and Patran have
    contributed to the death of Ghaghar. The owners of these factories, their
    management, the government departments which gave clearances for the
    establishment and running of these factories, the officers with whose
    signatures these factories came into existence, the Punjab Pollution Control
    Board which is primarily responsible for monitoring and controlling
    pollution and effluents, the Revenue department and Directorate of excise
    and taxes, the Finance Ministry of Punjab which is filling its pockets from
    taxes on these factories thus giving them a legal status and lastly, the
    people who remain silent and indifferent during this demolition are
    responsible for the death of a river and her ecosystem, the destruction of
    health and environment here and for the displacement of farmers. These are
    environmental criminals who need to be held liable. Punjab needs a people’s
    movement to take up the issue of life of our rivers and to keep alive
    Punjabi civilization. By giving a rousing call to the public, Sant Balbir
    Singh Seenchewal has already taken an initiative in this direction. But we
    have still a long way to go.
    Moreover , After confirmation of presence of uranium traces in hair samples
    of children from Baba Farid Centre for Special Children and water and soil
    samples it is certain that Punjab is in midst of multiple environmental
    toxicity. This is an indicator that it is situation of extreme emergency in
    Punjab. Let us start talking the political ecology. Let people start
    thinking politically to punish the environmental culprits of Punjab. We have
    to evolve newer ways to punish those who are responsible for this
    devastation. Though, I also found that I was also one of the culprits, even
    several of us those who are now fighting for environment were not behaved in
    responsible manner earlier, otherwise situation would have been different. I
    feel we are also blameworthy and I am firm that all those who are guilty
    must be punished
    My friend and the person who is carving my understanding on ecological
    issues, Prof. Shubh Prem Brar from Bathinda has rightly said, “Southern
    Punjab is surrounded by toxic water ways. It is as though a garland of
    poisonous water is encircling a large area of Punjab”. If you see the map of
    Punjab, you can see the absolutely terrifying picture of poisonous water
    encircling entire south, south-eastern and south-western region of Punjab. I
    ask further – Is it possible to change this death wreath into a life jacket?
    Can we stop our civilization from dying?
    I am waiting for an answer…the 63-year old young revolutionary Dr Azad is
    equally eager to know this answer, as he constantly says “Punjab is a dying
    civilization and time is running out of our hands.” None of us want Punjab
    to die, do we?
    (Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission; a Jaitu based a
    civil society ecological action group working on natural farming and
    environmental health. Contacts: Phones: 09872682161)
    Umendra Dutt, Executive Director, Kheti Virasat Mission
    KHETI VIRASAT MISSION
    JAITU,District- FARIDKOT- 151202
    PUNJAB
    Phone:01635 – 503415, Mobile -9872682161
     
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