July 22, 2021 7:15:58 am
A Public Action Committee (PAC), constituted by several organisations to save Mattewara forests of Ludhiana, has written a letter to heads of all political parties in Punjab, asking them to ‘take a clear public stand’ ahead of the 2022 Punjab polls, on the ‘proposed industrial park in ecologically sensitive zone touching Mattewara forest and Sutlej river.’
The letter has been addressed to Punjab Congress president, Navjot Singh Sidhu, AAP state president, Bhagwant Mann, SAD president, Sukhbir Singh Badal, LIP president, Simarjeet Singh Bains, and others. The PAC includes representatives of several organizations — such as RBS Roots, Bhai Ghanaiya Cancer Roko Sewa Society, Ludhiana Cares Ladies Society, Naroa Punjab Manch, and Council of Engineers, among others.
“…this issue is not only about the environment but also about coming generations of Punjabis. But sadly it has not received the attention it deserves from the political class of the state in the past few months. We request you to take a clear public stand on this on behalf of your party. The Govt of Punjab has proposed a 1,000-acre industrial park in an ecologically sensitive zone adjoining Mattewara Forest and on the bank of river Sutlej in Ludhiana. This river is the lifeline of millions of humans and animals as the only source of drinking water for the large population of south Punjab and eight districts of Rajasthan,” reads the letter.
It further reads, “…The quality of this drinking water is already extremely degraded due to untreated sewage entering it from Buddha Darya of Ludhiana, Kala Sanghian drain, and Chitti Bein. Satluj and Beas merge at Hari-k- Pattan to form a lake and a wetland from which drinking water is supplied to the towns and villages of South Punjab and Rajasthan, via canals. The domestic sewage and industrial effluent from dyeing and other industries of Ludhiana, carried by Buddha Darya, is at best partly treated. The municipal sewage treatment plants are severely under capacity. The common effluent treatment plants of the dyeing industry are struggling to get started for almost a decade. That such severely polluted water is supplied as drinking water to millions was already distressing enough. Creating a huge industrial complex as another source of pollution right on the banks of Sutlej will only make this problem worse and may prove to be a health disaster.”
“The groundwater situation in Punjab is also very precarious with water table falling. Experts have predicted desertification of Punjab in the coming decades if this trend continues….This region is a biodiversity hotspot and helps to maintain the health of the river. It also contains lush forests which are called riparian forests or flood plain forests. Flood plains help to recharge groundwater by providing channels of flow between underground aquifers and the river. Damage to floodplains harms the riverine ecosystem, lessens groundwater recharge capacity, and poses threats of flash floods. There is a complete ban on construction activity on floodplains,” further reads the letter.
‘Further there are many forests in the area — Mattewara Forest, Jaspal Kadar Forest, Haidar Nagar Salempur Forest — which are so close that they touch the proposed industrial park on different sides. These are remnants of large riparian forests along the Sutlej, which have survived land grab from agriculture, industrialisation, and urbanization, till date. These are notified as protected forests by the Department of Forests Punjab website. Habitat of the animals in these forests will be devastated by industrial activity. Risk of fast forest degradation due to its being so near is very real. Punjab has not many forests left. It only has 3.65% forests as per Forest Survey of India which is at the bottom of national rankings,” the letter says.
‘Our team has approached the National Green Tribunal on this issue and they have issued directions to the Chief Secretary Punjab to ensure flood plains or the riparian forests are not damaged. The Government of Punjab has neither responded to the public criticism nor given any public statement regarding the orders of the NGT. They have also not stopped work on this project. In fact, GLADA officers went with heavy police and damaged crops of the farmers in the village of Sekhowal a few days back in a bid to vacate the land. The legality of the transfer of the said land itself is under litigation in which villagers have taken the state administration to the court and the matter is sub-judice,’ says the letter.
Asking political parties to take a clear stand on the issue, the letter concludes, “No good country destroys such gifts of nature in the name of development and most advanced countries preserve all their ecological wealth for their future generations. Political parties play an important role in mediating between citizens and the governments in a democracy. Elections in the state are a few months away. We want you to take a clear stand against the choice of location of this proposed industrial park and tell the government that they should find another suitable place for this project and not mess with this environmentally sensitive area.”
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