Residents in several colonies in Ludhiana city were forced to live amidst stench and in fear of disease outbreak for several days after stinking, polluted water from overflowing Buddha Nullah flooded the streets and their homes. The Indian Express explains what is Buddha Nullah, how severely it is polluted, and how both Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) and Ludhiana Municipal Corporation (LMC) are responsible for the mess that it is in.
What is Buddha Nullah?
Originating at village Koom Kalan of Ludhiana and running for 47 kms till Walipur Kalan where it merges with River Sutlej, this stream carrying fresh water was earlier known as ‘Buddha Dariya’. Over the years, the name got changed to Buddha Nullah (drain) owing to the sewage, industrial and domestic waste that is dumped into it in the 14-km stretch within Ludhiana city municipal corporation limits beginning from Tajpur road.
What are the major sources of pollution? Is Ludhiana MC also contributing in polluting the stream directly?
There are three major sources polluting Buddha Nullah – untreated sewage waste from Ludhiana city Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs), untreated industrial effluents from 228 dyeing units, and 16 ‘outlets’, which are directly releasing sewage and industrial waste into the stream. Of these 16 outlets, 11 are “MC disposal points” through which the civic body is directly releasing untreated sewage waste into the stream.
As per the Action Plan for Clean River Sutlej-2019 prepared by directorate of environment and climate change, department of science and technology, Government of Punjab: Of 2,423 industrial units in Punjab polluting the Sutlej, the majority 2,028 are in Ludhiana including 228 dyeing and 1,649 electroplating and surface treatment units which directly or indirectly release untreated waste in Buddha Nullah. PPCB too has been accused of not taking action against these units.
The untreated sewage waste from Ludhiana’s Jamalpur and Balloke STPs also goes into it. Against the capacity to treat 48 MLD (million liters a day), Jamalpur STP gets 205 MLD on an average daily. The Balloke STP gets 268 MLD against 257 MLD capacity. Both STPs mostly remain dysfunctional. The excess untreated waste also goes into the stream.
Some industries also release untreated waste into MC sewage, which too goes into the nullah, says the document.
How is Buddha Nullah further polluting the Sutlej?
The Action Plan report says that Buddha Nullah directly pollutes the Sutlej by carrying discharge from seven Ludhiana villages, Ludhiana city (except Bhattian STP) and Sahnewal town with its total estimated discharge being 5.92 lakh KLD (kilo liters per day) into the river. Of this, 5.89 lakh KLD discharge comes from Ludhiana city.
How severe is the pollution in Buddha Nullah?
In April 2019, the PPCB started monthly sampling from 15 locations where the stream flows. As per the average Buddha Nullah monitoring data from April to June, the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) was recorded from 65 to 2,112 mg/l while it should not be more than 30. At three locations it was more than 1,400 mg/l including the highest 2,112 mg/l at Haibowal dairies.
The fecal coliform (bacteria levels) were recorded from 1.70 lakh (MPN/100 ml) to the highest 58.31 lakh (MPN/100 ml). At eight locations it was more than 20 lakh MPN/100 ml and at two locations more than 32 lakh MPN/100 ml. Ideally, it should be nil.
The pH level at all locations was recorded from 7.94 to 7.2 – more than permissible limit of 7. “The data indicates dangerously high levels of water pollution, harmful for human life in several ways,” says Charanjit Singh, scientific officer, zonal lab, Ludhiana, PPCB.
How has NGT responded? How PPCB and Ludhiana MC are at loggerheads over Buddha Nullah?
In November 2018, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) slapped a fine of Rs 50 crore on Punjab government for failing to control pollution in Sutlej and Beas rivers. In its orders dated February 28, 2019 (Sobha Singh vs state of Punjab), the NGT, revamping the earlier Sutlej Monitoring Committee (which also had environmentalist Balbir Singh Seechewal and representatives from Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), made Justice (retd) Pritam Pal as its head. Now, the water pollution data from Sutlej and Beas is sent regularly to the NGT monitoring committee and CPCB by PPCB.
While PPCB has been accusing MC of releasing untreated sewage waste into the stream, the civic body has accused PCCB of failing to take action against industrial units, extending deadlines of installing three Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) and even alleging that STPs went dysfunctional because industries are releasing untreated water in MC sewers.
In June 2019, the PPCB slapped a bank guarantee of Rs 75 lakh (Rs 25 lakh each STP) on the MC for failing to run STPs properly. This was followed by a court case in August first week filed by PPCB against MC officials including Mayor Balkar Sandhu and MC commissioner Kanwalpreet Kaur under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act alleging that MC is releasing untreated sewage waste from Jamalpur STP in Buddha Nullah.
Mayor Sandhu and Ludhiana east MLA Sanjay Talwar have, however, asked why PPCB has failed to take action against industrial units polluting nullah since decades.”We have not hidden anything from NGT. Till STPs are not revamped, we cannot flood city with sewage water,” says senior MC official.
How old promises failed? What are the new ones?
Except for annual ‘de-silting’ for which Ludhiana MC keeps a budget of Rs 1-2 crore, no funds have been received to clean the stream despite tall promises by successive governments.
In April 2015, former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal constituted a 15-member high-level committee to clean the Buddha Nullah. Delhi-based company, Engineers India Limited, was hired and even paid Rs 3.34 crore to prepare a detailed project report but the project never materialised.
In December last year, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh constituted a Special Task Force (STF) under the supervision of Namdhari sect head Thakur Uday Singh to clean the nullah.
Finance minister Manpreet Badal also announced Rs 4.38 crore in 2019-20 budget but not released yet.
Now Ludhiana MP Ravneet Singh Bittu is claiming that Tata Group will clean the stream under Rs 900 crore project for which he has sought financial help from Union Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.
NGT monitoring committee has announced that it will hold workshops in Ludhiana to ‘sensitize’ industrialists.