Yusaf and his family have not taken their animals to the Beas river for the last five days, ever since they saw its water turning black after molasses spilled into it from the mill of Chadha Sugar Industry Private Limited at Kiri Afgana village in Gurdaspur last week.
Around 15 days back, the family, which has a house near Tarn Taran, shifted to a gurdwara near village Dhun of Tarn Taran, 14 kilometers from Harike, to stay at the banks of Beas river for the next two months to ensure enough fodder and water for their animals, including 15 buffaloes that they brought along.
“We heard the announcement from the gurdwara on Thursday that black water will come in Beas and that everyone should get their animals out of it. I have spent my life along side the banks of Beas. I have never seen its water turning black. I could not believe it at first. But then I saw it coming with lots of dead fish on Friday morning. I was scared,” says Yusaf. “Black water has passed now. But we want to wait for some more days. We do not still know if the water is safe for our animals. For the time being, we have been drawing water by running a hand pump installed near river for one hour three times daily. But heat is rising and animals also need to bathe and spend some time in water to stay healthy. This is why we have brought them here. We want someone to ensure that water is safe for use now.”
Jaimal Singh is a boatman at Karmuwala village. He ferries people and their two-wheelers across the Beas.
“This is the first time that I have not drunk Beas water for five days in a row while staying in Karmuwala. I remain afloat on Beas for the whole day and would drink water from the river whenever I felt thirsty. Beas’s water is very healthy and improves digestion system. People who know it come to especially carry its water home,” he says.
“I was on my boat when black water came flowing on Friday morning. I could not believe my eyes. Passengers on my boat were afraid. I do not know if I would ever drink its water again,” Jaimal says.
He rows his boat in an area where Dolphins are also found. Wildlife officials spotted a Dolphin at Karmuwala on Sunday.
“I saw Dolphins very often. But there were no Dolphins on Friday and Saturday. I thought they had died. But I saw one of them again on Sunday. Then wildlife officials came in the afternoon and they also spotted it. I thanked God that Dolphins are fine,” Jaimal says.
“I saw many videos on social media showing dead fish. Then I rushed to Harike to see if these videos were true. I saw dead fish. Whoever has done this should be punished,” says Sarabjit Singh Dhotian, a preacher with Shiromani Gurudwara Parbhandak Committee.
In the only action so far against the sugar mill, the state’s wildlife department has produced a challan in a court at Batala, which has kept the next hearing for June 2.
The Amritsar Rural police have decided not to take any action on the complaint of wildlife official in Ferozepur, Charanjit Singh, saying the source of pollution was out of their jurisdiction.
Beas was declared a conservation reserve in October 2017 by the Punjab government because of presence of Gharials and Dolphins.
On his part, Charanjit Singh said it was up to the fisheries department to take action.
When contacted, Raj Kumar, deputy director at fisheries department office in Amritsar, said, “We have sent the sample of dead fish and polluted water to Ludhiana lab for test. We will send the report to office of our director at Chandigarh for further action. The Beas was made a conservation reserve under the Wildlife Act last year. So Wildlife officials are supposed to take action for dead fish found in the river.”
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