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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Groundwater Pollution in Punjab: A Looming Health Crisis


Mandi- A research team from the Indian Institute of Technology Mandi, led by Dr. Dericks Praise Shukla and his PhD student, Harsimranjit Kaur Romana, has uncovered alarming insights into groundwater pollution in the state of Punjab. The study, which analyzed changes in drinking water quality from 2000 to 2020, sought to assess the health hazard trends linked to nitrate and fluoride while pinpointing regions with poor groundwater quality.

Punjab, often hailed as the “bread bowl of India,” has undergone a profound transformation in its crop patterns over the last five decades due to the Green Revolution. While this led to a dominance of high-yielding rice and wheat crops, it also resulted in extensive groundwater exploitation. Today, over 74% of irrigation needs in the state are met through groundwater due to inconsistent monsoons. The depletion of groundwater levels and the need to tap into deeper geological strata have caused the quality of groundwater to deteriorate, with some sources containing heavy metals and even radioactive elements.

The consequences of this prolific agriculture have been dire. With 94% of Punjab’s population relying on groundwater for drinking water, pollution has given rise to serious health problems. Punjab, once an agricultural paradise, has earned the unfortunate title of the “cancer capital” of India, highlighting the severe impact of water pollution on human health.

While various studies have touched on groundwater quality issues in India, few have provided a comprehensive analysis of both time and location. The IIT Mandi study aimed to fill this critical gap.

Dr. D.P. Shukla, Associate Professor at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, IIT Mandi, explained the study’s goal: “We aimed to assess how groundwater quality for drinking purposes changed from 2000 to 2020 at different places. It also sought to examine ten-year trends in health hazards associated with contaminants like nitrate and fluoride, along with identifying regions with notably subpar groundwater quality.”

The results of this comprehensive research have been published in the journal “Environmental Science and Pollution Research.” The study, co-authored by Harsimranjit Kaur Romana, Prof. Ramesh P. Singh, and Dr. Dericks Praise Shukla, has uncovered a disturbing trend. Water quality has significantly declined in the southwestern region of Punjab, affecting the health of residents. In contrast, the north-eastern regions, nourished by Himalayan rivers, exhibit comparatively better water quality.

This study not only illuminates the alarming state of groundwater pollution in Punjab but also serves as a vital resource for policymakers. It underscores the urgent need for mitigation measures and aims to raise awareness among residents about locations with unsafe groundwater for drinking.

These findings stress the necessity for immediate government attention to investigate the quality of groundwater for drinking and irrigation. The insights provided by this study are expected to galvanize actions aimed at safeguarding this invaluable resource and, more importantly, the health of Punjab’s population. The clock is ticking, and action is the need of the hour to avert a looming health crisis in the land of five rivers.


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