Toxicity in Ferozepur district's groundwater is causing crippling disorders among children in several villages

The toxicity of the groundwater in over four dozen villages in the border areas of Ferozepur district of Punjab has risen to such alarming levels that an increasing number of children now requires wheelchairs more than toys, as they fall victim to crippling disorders.

The grim picture of the countryside in Punjab's backwaters was brought to the fore by comedian Bhagwant Mann, whose NGO Lok Lehar Foundation started working with these people less than two months ago. Presenting a couple of children who had lost their eyesight to toxicity, Mr. Mann said, “This is just an effort to wake up our decision-makers to the harsh reality.”

“People have often come to me to forward their request to the authorities to hand their villages over to Pakistan. Disillusioned by apathy, these people are at a loss to distinguish which is the real enemy nation,” says the noted TV personality and actor.

Mr. Mann brought a group of children who lost their eyesight, school-going girls, parents and teachers to the Chandigarh Press Club to focus media spotlight on the “bleak condition” of these people surviving on the fringes of what was known as “Rangla Punjab.” He listed Dona Nanaka, Teja Rohella, Mahata Nagar, Jhangar Bhaini and Retewali Bhaini villages as among the most adversely affected areas. Apart from the loss of eyesight, people suffered from psoriasis, mutilation of organs, skeletal disorders, skin problems, organ failures, cancer, chronic jaundice, premature greying of the hair and mental disorientation.

“The Sutlej river, which carries blue waters till Nangal in Ropar district, gets polluted by effluents from Ropar, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Moga cities of Punjab as well as Kasur from Pakistan. When the water reaches the vicinity of these villages, it becomes black and carries deadly uranium, lead, mercury and other heavy metals as also heavy doses of pesticides,” he said. The same water seeped into the ground in these villages.

Mohan Singh, who farms on four ‘kanals' of land on Dona Nanaka, presented his two sons, Shankar and Basakha Singh, who are handicapped. Shankar (19) lost his eyesight 10 years ago, when he was in Class IV. His 10-year-old brother is visually challenged and developed a hearing impairment four years ago. Both were born normal.

Mr. Singh says water from the 35-foot hand pump in his house changes colours when stored for a few minutes. Apart from putting up signs that the groundwater is unfit for drinking, the authorities have done nothing so far.

Lovejeet Singh, a teacher, says that of the 180 students in the Government Primary School, at least 110 were physically challenged.

Jasbir Lohan, a rehabilitation psychologist associated with Mr. Mann's effort, was at a loss to understand the criteria followed by the State government and the World Bank in devising projects for safe drinking water. Despite being located in the constituency represented by Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, none of the villages located along the western bank of the Sutlej had a proper drinking water supply project implemented since 1947.