Chandigarh June 20:
It would seem like a Bacchus lover’s paradise, a dream come true. Only, it’s not. A pollution-level survey is looking into excessive levels of alcohol in the groundwater around four major distilleries in Punjab as they are discharging their untreated effluents directly into the soil.
But, for residents, it’s not all joy. An unbearable stench of rot hangs heavily in the air as you drive from Chandigarh to Dera Bassi, where one of the distilleries is located. A team of Punjab legislators has found that nearly 30-km area around the four distilleries has become ‘highly polluted and contains huge amounts of alcohol’.
Sukhwinder Kaur, a resident of Dera Bassi, where one of the distilleries is located says, "The smell of liqour, when it is fermented, hangs in the air all the time. When you drink water it is not just yellow in colour but smells of liquor. May be we are all on a high all the time and so have stopped feeling it."
Punjab is known for men with an unsatiable thirst for liquor. The state earns maximum revenue, more than from any other product including foodgrain, from liquor sales. Expectedly, the state has the highest rate of liver failures and is probably the poorest equipped to deal with the medical crisis.
Virsa Singh Valtoha, an Akali MLA who is part of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha’s Pollution Control Committee (PCC), said that the situation is alarming as it is detrimental to people’s health. "This is very serious. We are looking into the norms that are being flouted by various distillieries that is causing such serious health hazard to people living in the vicinity."
The report of the committee has not yet been tabled, said Valtoha, and as of now is confidential. The main culprits are four distilleries in Dera Bassi, Pathankot, Hamira and Gurdaspur areas. These units have been defaulting perpetually by discharging untreated effluents in water channels and soil, causing not just air pollution but destruction of aquatic life as well.
Since these distilleries find use of coal expensive, they use rice husk and later scatter the ash all along roads and vacant areas, which is the prime reason for the unbearable stench. Beer distilling and bottling plants discharge waste in streams and ponds which seeps into the ground. At many places, the waste after production of alcohol is discharged into rivers.
Babu Ram, secretary, Punjab Pollution Control Board said, "People resent the discharge in rivers especially in the areas where it passes through religious places like in Hargobindpur, Goindwal Sahib, Khadoor Shib, Sultanpur Lodhi and River Beas, passing close to the Radha Soami Dera at Beas."