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Mattewara – sacred no longer?

The sacred forest at Mattewara is one of the last surviving forests of Punjab – legend has it that it was visited by two Sikh Gurus – Guru Nanak Dev Ji and Guru Gobind Singh Ji. It is said that the Mattewara forest which lies on the flood plains of the Satluj river, was mentioned by Guru Nanak Dev Ji as the saviour of the city of Ludhiana from floods. Home to many wild species of birds, monkeys, deer, wild boar, nilgai – the reserve also contains a botanical and butterfly garden, maintained by Ludhiana’s Forest Department that showcases many species of flora and butterflies.  Situated near the floodplains of the Sutlej River, the forest has a natural oxbow lake which prevents the area from flooding and acts as a water reserve.

According to ENVIS survey of 2022, Punjab’s forest area stands at an abysmal low of 3.67% and is one of the lowest in India. The degradation of forest land over the years has led to a water crisis too, leading to protests about the lack of fresh water all over the state. With water tables falling rapidly, it is imperative to protect the little forest cover that Punjab has and to grow new forests along with water conservancy methods.

Instead, plans are afoot to introduce a textile park close to the Mattewara forest. Around 407 acres of village Sekhowal was acquired against the wishes of the Gram Sabha to set up Matterwara Textile Park. 

The common village land or Shamlat land of Sekhowal village was illegally acquired by the government. The Gram Sabha of this village came into action and is fighting a court case on this illegal land acquisition.”

Kashmir Singh Village, Member Gram Sabha, Village Sekhowal, Ludhiana.

Textile industries are not only water intensive but also release toxic wastes – which if left untreated enter the waterways, causing pollution of fresh water sources and impacting the health of all those who depend on this already depleting water supply.

Already the areas of Fazilka, Ferozepur and Bhatinda are infamous as the cancer belt of Punjab with the population there reeling under cancer and lung diseases. As the water from Mattewara flows downstream towards this belt, it will only serve to worsen the health issues that the local population suffers from.

Punjab is already in the grip of heart valves issues in the catchment areas of river Satluj, skin diseases, hepatitis and cancer which is highest per lakh people in South Asia all due to heavy metals pollution in rivers. Successive governments never paid attention to the pain of people for obvious reasons and supported the lobby of  dyeing industry.

Even so, we are shocked that the present government have not only given this lobby representation in Rajya Sabha but have also given them our biggest jungle cluster in 4000 acres and one mighty river Satluj on a platter to use clean water for dyeing clothes. Forgetting that we are left with only decade long reservoir of water for our people.

This is case of weapons of mass destruction placed towards the state of Punjab.

This should stop.

Dr. Amandeep Singh Bains

There is little faith that the textile park will comply with effluent treatment regulations or that the government will implement any regulation strictly going by the complete disregard that has been shown towards the pollution caused by effluents in the Buddha nallah, a seasonal freshwater stream that drains into the Sutlej.

Despite the National Green Tribunal’s directions Punjab Government has completely ignored these directions

NGT in its interim order has formed a committee headed by district magistrate Ludhiana and comprising of forest, drainage and GLADA officers to decide if the location of the proposed mega textile park is on flood plain of River Sutlej or not.”

Jaskirat Singh environmentalist

One the one hand, the government has unfortunately chosen the most eco-sensitive area of Ludhiana to build an industrial park. On the other hand, little priority is given to the flood plains of Sutlej, water quality of Sutlej, drinking water issues of South Punjab, biodiversity of Mattewara, forests of Punjab, underground water of Punjab – the list goes on!  This deep denial of people’s health as well as climate change does not bode well for Punjab’s future.

A kilogram of fibre both cotton and polyester requires 100 to 150 litres of water and   2273 litres of water is used for the production of just one pair of jeans. Textile producers frequently dump wastewater directly into waterways, hence the choice of river Sutlej.  This contaminated water from textile industries contain hormone altering chemicals, coloured dyes, and cleaning solvents that alter the pH, oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorous levels in rivers causing increased rates of cancer, asthma, and workers have experienced second and third degree burns from handling chemicals.”

Samita Kaur, Warrior Moms

The solutions that have been proposed – building a wall around the Industrial Park is laughable! Walls will not check the air, land and water pollution around the area. Instead, it is vital that Punjab pays attention to increasing its forest cover and replenishing its water table.  

 Groups of citizens are coming together to raise their concerns about the state of environment in Punjab, creating awareness and speaking with those in power.

Improving the health of its people while offering employment in areas of sustainability and environment conservation would be a crucial step towards Punjab’s development!

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