JASWANT SINGH GANDAM / RAMAN NEHRA
India Post News Service
SULTANPUR LODHI/PHAGWARA: Upholding the basic tenets of Guru Nanak Dev’s philosophy with respect to the protection of natural resources, the Punjab council of ministers has resolved to take all necessary administrative and legal steps to effectively check the fast depleting groundwater table in the state.
In its resolution taken September 10, the cabinet, led by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, underlined the need to take proactive measures for canalization of rivers Sutlej, Beas and Ravi to conserve the groundwater by ensuring its judicious utilization besides saving it from contamination.
The Chief Minister stressed the importance of conserving groundwater for the future generations, warning that failure to do so would transform Punjab into an arid desert in the foreseeable future.
“It was the bounden duty of all citizens to join the state government’s endeavour to save the most precious natural resource, which is also the lifeline of mankind,” he asserted.
Pointing out that the groundwater level was depleted in about 85 per cent of the state’s area, with an average yearly rate of fall of water level of about 50 cm, the Chief Minister expressed concern that 109 study blocks out of a total of 138 in the state were now under the over-exploited category, according to the Dynamic Ground Water Estimation Report -2017 report.
“The problem could be ignored only at Punjab’s own peril”, he warned.
In another significant decision aimed at encouraging industries to shift to eco-friendly gas, the cabinet also decided to cut down VAT on natural gas, in a gaseous state other than compressed natural gas, from 14.3 per cent to 3.3 per cent.
Amarinder Singh said the move would help cut down on industrial pollution in the state.
At present, the rate of VAT on natural gas is 13 per cent plus 10 per cent surcharge i.e. 14.30 per cent in Punjab. The major consumer of gas is National Fertilizers Limited (NFL), which uses the gas at its plants at Bathinda and Nangal. Natural gas is also consumed in very small quantity by select industries and the transport sector.
Before March 2015, the VAT rate on natural gas was 5.5 per cent plus 10 per cent surcharge i.e. 6.05 per cent. From March 2015 onwards, VAT rate on natural gas was increased from 6.05 per cent to 14.3 per cent. Due to an increase in the VAT rate, NFL started interstate billing of natural gas, due to which VAT collection on natural gas decreased. The VAT collection on natural gas from the years 2014-15 to 2018-19 came down considerably – from Rs 105.77 crore to Rs 5.67 crore, which had further shown a steep decline to Rs. 1.84 crore till June 2019, during financial year 2019-20.
In another decision, the Cabinet also approved the extension of Suhelewala distributory, Jalalabad, at a capital outlay of Rs 1.35 crore under the medium irrigation (Plan) Budget grant. The Cabinet also took a series of decisions with respect to housing allotment, including restriction of flats for allotment of land under ECGHS scheme to 40 per acre and 3 per cent reservation of residential plots for government employees under PUDA and special authorities’ jurisdiction.
Earlier, Amarinder Singh also met eminent environmentalist Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal and lauded the works done by him.
Seechewal stressed the need of keeping rivers and streams clean to enjoy the bounty of nature. He sought the Chief Minister’s help in getting 500 cusecs of water released into river Bein to ensure its uninterrupted flow. It was during a dip in the Bein that Guru Nanak Dev got enlightenment.
Sant Seechewal is pursuing the cleanliness work of holy Bein for 19 years. Amarinder Singh also appreciated Seechewal’s other work. including providing help to flood-hit people. Volunteers associated with Seechewal had worked overnight for 10 days to plug the breach of Jania Chahal village. They also distributed tons of ration and hundreds of bottles/glasses of water and huge quantity of other essential commodities to the marooned people with Sant Seechewal himself wading through chest-deep water for this humanitarian cause.