Groundwater pollution leading to health issues in Punjab, finds IIT Mandi study

The study carried out by researchers of School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, IIT Delhi, checked the groundwater at 315 sites in Punjab.

Punjab farm land is dominated by mono-cropping species. (Image: Official)Punjab farm land is dominated by mono-cropping species. (Image: Official)

Divyansh | October 10, 2023 | 02:49 PM IST

NEW DELHI: A research team of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Mandi) has carried out a study into groundwater pollution induced by human activities, particularly through agricultural runoff in Punjab.

The study was led by Dericks Praise Shukla, associate professor of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering of the IIT Mandi and his PhD student Harsimranjit Kaur Romana.

The study involved the measurements of pH, electric conductivity (EC), and various ions from over 315 sites in Punjab. The results revealed that the water quality was 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.

The study found that Punjab, like other agrarian states in the country, has experienced a profound shift in its crop patterns over the last half-century, primarily after the green revolution. As a result, most farmers in the state have adopted mono-cropping of high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat, making Punjab the second-largest contributor to wheat production in India.

Groundwater meets 74% irrigation

The study added that the intensive agricultural practices by the state farmers have resulted in severe groundwater exploitation. More than 74% of irrigation requirements in the state are met through groundwater due to lack of high precipitation during the monsoon.

Also in the last two decades, the groundwater demand has increased due to the absence of monsoon, the study added.

“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,” it added.

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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.

Shukla 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.

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