Private-public business model aims to make saline water in south-west Punjab useful for fish farming, biogas, dairy farms and more
T HE fast-depleting groundwater table in Punjab has already raised concerns of desertification. Now, scientists are warning of possible "reverse flow" -of brackish water toward good quality water -in some blocks. This, they say, can pollute areas, where watertable is fast declining, with saline water from bordering blocks.
"The direction of water flow in Punjab is from good quality in north-east to saline in south-west. While the direction is still the same, the fall in elevation of watertable height from mean sea level -can change the flow of water at the border blocks. All six blocks of Moga district -Nihal Singh Wala, Dharamkot, Moga 1 and 2, Bagha Purana and Barnala where watertable is declining can face this spectre," says Dr AK Jain, Head, Soil and Water Engineering Department, Punjab Agricultural University.
While the solution lies in minimising extraction of groundwater in these blocks where groundwater level is declining by half-a-metre every year -through both diversifying from waterguzzling paddy and water-intensive industry and recharging water -the rise in level of brackish water, too, needs to be checked. At least in the latter, there seems to be some hope.
In July 2009, a delegation, led by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, went to Israel and saw how wasteland was converted into water reservoirs and agro-processing was integrated with power generation. The same concept will be used to make 1.25 lakh hectares of water-logged areas in south-west Punjab useful for fish farming, biogas, dairy farms, orchards, food-processing industry and packaged drinking water.
Punjab Agro Industries Limited (PAIC), a state government organisation, is partnering with Sampuran Agri ventures, Fazilka a unit of food-processing company Nasa Agro, in a public-private business model to create water bodies over farmers' land and making saline water flow into them. "It's an integrated model. These ponds will then be used for fish farming. A part of water will be drawn for desalination process and used for bio-gas digsters to process paddy straw. The desalinated water can also be used for irrigating orchards and in dairy farms. This is not all. The treated water to be used for food processing industry and packaged water," says Sanjeev Nagpal, MD, Sampuran Agri Ventures.
To back up the ambitious mega project, a centre of excellence will come up over 50 acres in Fazilka in Ferozepur district for training farmers in various agro-processing and allied activities. The last link in the integrated model will be a food processing industry belt to be set up over 100 acres for producing snacks such as barley noodles to kinnow juice, fish, poultry and dairy products.
Also partnering in the project through its patented "bio-methanisation" technology is the Kirloskar group. "We have done pioneering work in the field of processing of paddy straw into biogas. The power will be supplied to the upcoming food processing industries in the proposed industry belt," says Deepak Palwangar, head, marketing, Kirloskar. The residue from the power plant would be converted into compost, which would be available at two-third price of chemical fertilisers. The effluent from the digester of bio-gas plant would be further treated for conversion into value-added products such as silica, lignin and cattle feed.
To begin with, two pilot bio-gas power projects will be set up at Sarjana (3 MW) and Fazilka (1 MW) and the plant will also generate 89,100 tonnes of bio-fertilisers. After successful run of the pilot project, it will be replicated in 30 sites in water-logged belt of the state, says Nagpal.
While Ludhiana-based Guru Angad Dev University for Veterinary Sciences is conducting experiments on fish rearing in saline water and the model can be replicated. However, PAU scientist Dr AK Jain, has words of caution: "The usefulness of the project to reuse saline water will depend on the correct use of technology. The construction of drains in the water-logged areas has to be done with right slope and width."
As for central Punjab districts where groundwater is fast depleting, data collection needs to be made more effective to portray the gravity of the problem, he says. "We have to rely on data provided by the irrigation and agriculture department. There should be a collaborative effort between Central and state agencies to deal with the problem," says Jain.
FALLING WATERTABLE IN CENTRAL DISTRICTS MAY RESULT IN GOOD QUALITY WATER MIXING UP WITH BRACKISH WATER IN SOUTH-WESTERN PUNJAB A K JAIN, head, Soil and Water Engineering Department, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.