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IIT Mandi Researchers Reveal Alarming Change in Groundwater Quality in Punjab

By   /  October 10, 2023  /  Comments Off on IIT Mandi Researchers Reveal Alarming Change in Groundwater Quality in Punjab

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MANDI :  A research team from the Indian Institute of Technology Mandi, led by Dr. Dericks Praise Shukla, Associate Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, IIT Mandi and his PhD student Ms. Harsimranjit Kaur Romana, a native of Punjab, has derived concerning insights into human activity-induced groundwater pollution, particularly through agricultural runoff in Punjab.

Punjab, as with most agriculture-centric states of India, has experienced a profound shift in its crop patterns over the last half-century, primarily due to the Green Revolution. This transformation has led to the dominance of mono-cropping of high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat, making Punjab the second-largest contributor to wheat production in India. Unfortunately, these intensive agricultural practices have resulted in severe groundwater exploitation, with over 74% of the irrigation requirements being met through groundwater in the absence of good monsoon. In the last two decades, the groundwater demand has increased due to the absence of monsoon. The depth of groundwater wells has increased due to the lowering of groundwater levels as a result the quality of groundwater is continuously deteriorating. The groundwater department and local farmers have to exploit groundwater from deeper geological strata which are enriched in heavy metals and few are radioactive having serious health impacts.

The prolific agricultural activity has come at a significant cost – groundwater pollution. Since 94% of the population of Punjab relies on groundwater for their drinking water needs, the pollution of groundwater has resulted in serious health issues. Punjab once celebrated as the “bread bowl of India”, is now infamously referred to as the “cancer capital” of India, reflecting the dire consequences of water pollution and its impact on human health.

While multiple studies have highlighted groundwater quality issues in India, an extensive time-based and place-based analysis of the region has been lacking. The IIT Mandi study sought to address this critical gap.

Explaining the motive of the study, Dr. D.P. Shukla, Associate Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, IIT Mandi, said, “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 findings of this comprehensive research have been published in the journal “Environmental Science and Pollution Research”. The paper was co-authored by Ms. Harsimranjit Kaur Romana, Prof. Ramesh P. Singh, and Dr. Dericks Praise Shukla. The paper may be accessed here: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-023-29200-6

The study involved the measurements of pH, electric conductivity (EC), and various ions from over 315 sites in Punjab. The results revealed a disturbing trend, with water quality declining in the southwestern region of Punjab, adversely affecting the health of the residents. In contrast, the north-eastern regions, nourished by Himalayan rivers, exhibited comparatively better water quality.

This study not only sheds light on the alarming state of groundwater pollution in Punjab but also serves as a crucial resource for policymakers. It underscores the urgent need for mitigation measures and creates awareness among residents about the locations with unsafe groundwater for drinking. These findings emphasize that immediate attention of the state government is required to investigate the quality of groundwater for drinking and irrigation purposes. The study’s insights are expected to catalyze actions aimed at safeguarding this invaluable resource and the health of the population.

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