Environmentalist Medha Patkar — a social rights activist, who is well known as the founder member of a 32-year-old people’s movement called Narmada Bachao Andolan — on Sunday launched the ‘Sutlej Bachao, Punjab Bachao’ campaign in Ludhiana, Sunday.
Accompanied by members of the Punjab Action Committee (PAC) — that comprises activists and volunteers working to save River Sutlej — Patkar launched the campaign in Ludhiana on Sunday, after taking a tour of Mattewara forest and the villages near Sutlej river bank where Punjab government has proposed to setup an industrial park.
Many NGOs under the banner of ‘PAC for Sutlej and Mattewara’ have been campaigning for months now for saving river Sutlej. Their primary demands include cancellation of a proposal to create an industrial park near Mattewara forest and to bring transparency in the Buddha Nullah rejuvenation project.
Patkar on Sunday highlighted the issue of pollution of the Sutlej via Buddha Nullah (a polluted stream of Ludhiana city) and other waste water drains of industry and municipalities that emptied out in it. She said that it was a serious violation of environmental laws of the country and citizens need to raise their voice and ask the governments to fix these serious problems.
She said that they are working on protecting the Narmada as they consider it their mother and Sutlej in Punjab deserves the same level of respect and protection as it is also a source of drinking water for millions. She congratulated Punjabis for leading the way on agitation on the three farm laws and promised to raise the issue of environment protection of Punjab in the meeting of Sanyukt Kisan Morcha as well.
Patkar, later, undertook a tour to Mattewara forest and the site of the proposed industrial park near the protected forests. She interacted with the villagers of Sekhowal, who are protesting against the plan of their eviction from their farms due to the proposed industrial textile park in the area.
Kapil Dev — who is the main petitioner in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) petition filed against the proposed industrial park — said that the Punjab government bulldozed its way through the plan by notifying modifications to Ludhiana Master Plan to allow the industrial park on the river flood plain in designated no manufacturing zone. This despite an NGT order in this case to first demarcate flood plain of the Sutlej, which the government has not paid heed to till date.
Later, Patkar and others also visited the Buddha Nullah, near Jamalpur, to see the polluted water discharge. Gurpreet Singh Chandbaja explained that the polluted water was getting mixed in river Sutlej and was being supplied as drinking water to millions in south Punjab and Rajasthan.
Giani Kewal Singh, ex-Jathedar, Sri Damdama Sahib, also welcomed Patkar to Punjab and said, “Pavan guru pani pita mata dharat mahat by Guru Nanak is the essence of environmental wisdom. The government of Punjab should understand that disrespect for air and water cannot continue for very long without causing serious repercussions to the health of citizens. Political parties should give highest priority to environmental issues in their manifestos and should clearly spell their understanding of such problems in Punjab and the solutions they propose.”
Green activists led by Patkar also launched a website — http://www.greenmanifesto.info — which outlines major environment concerns of citizens and aims to persuade all political parties of Punjab to give prominence to such environment issues in the upcoming Assembly elections in 2022.
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