LAHORE - Excessive groundwater extraction in Kahoon Valley has changed the scenario at Katas Raj and now water is pumped into the pond that was previously catering to needs of nearby localities and loquat orchards.

The spring continued catering to water needs of nearby localities for centuries, but dried up in 2012, a few years after establishment of cement factories nearby despite hue and cry of people residing in lush green Kahoon Valley.

As the issue gained attention due to significance of natural spring for Hindus, the government started pumping water in the dried pond and the situation was the same during visits of journalists from Lahore.

Deputy Commissioner Chakwal Dr Omar Jahangir said that there was no water shortage as pond was filled through alternative source. He, however, said that long term solution was stopping cement plants from extracting groundwater.

“They (cement plants) will have to look for alternative of getting water from Chenab riverbed or move businesses to somewhere else”, he said.

According to a Hindu legend, Shiva cried on the death of his wife Sati and his tear formed Katas Raj pond. Temples of Shiva, Ram and Hanuman were built around this pond. Situated in Kahoon Valley of Salt Range near Kallar Kahar, the Katas Raj Temple complex is considered the second-most sacred worship place for Hindus. The pond spread over 2.5 kanals, with at least eight feet depth.

Temples built at least more than a century ago are connected to one another by walkways. The name of the temple complex is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘kataksha’ which means ‘tearful eyes’ and every spring and autumn, Hindu pilgrims from Pakistan and India visit the pond to bathe and ‘wash off their sins’.

Hindu community has divergent viewpoint on sanctity of water after filling the pond through alternative source. Some people say that it was not tears of Shiva while others believe that the place was sacred and hopefully the situation would improve after cement factories stop extraction and water table will rise when the valley receive good rains.

“This is not tears of Shiva. The water is not coming from springs and the pond is being filled through alternative source, nearby coal mine. We want concrete measures for revival of the pond to its original shape”, said Ravindar Kumar Chibbar, Member District Council who is a member of the only Hindu family living in Krriala, Chakwal.

“Excessive water extraction by cement factories has depleted the pond. This water is not pavitar for us as it is not coming out of springs and is recharged artificially. Cement factories should make alternative water arrangements”, he said.

Nawand Kumar Sharma, performing duties at Katas Raj as Pandit, however, differed with the viewpoint of Mr Chibbar. 

“The entire place is sacred for us. We appreciate the government for filling the pond through alternative source. Cement factories should be stopped from extracting water from the valley. Hopefully, the pond will return to its original shape after good rains”, he said.

Locals have thanked Katas Raj for reviving the issue of considerable drop in aquifer level in the Kahoon Valley. People complained about the water bores going dry, rise in diseases due to excessive air pollution, losing grazing areas for cattle, contamination of ponds, developing cracks in roofs and walls of houses due to blasting for extraction of limestone and decrease in crop yield.

“Bor Wali Bun, pond near a cement factory, is contaminated due to discharge of industrial waste. Animals used to drink water from this pond spreading over 64 kanals. But now the animals get sick and in certain conditions even die”, said Muhammad Banaras, 48, a cattle breeder in nearby village Malkana.

Saeed, a resident of Malkana, is finding it difficult to cultivate land as springs have dried due to excessive pumping of water by cement factories.

Hammad Sher Afghan, Dalailpur, said that his four out of five children were suffering from Asthma and skin allergy due to excessive air pollution.

“In a week at least 2-3 blasts are carried out by cement factories to extract limestone. This has made cracks in various homes”, he said.

Abdul Jalil, Badshahpur, said that water depth before setting up cement factories was 120 feet and now it was more than 400 feet.

“Now 402 feet deep water bore has stopped working”, he said.

Nisar Ahmad, Badshahpur, complained about hazards of one cement factory using garbage as fuel.

“The waste is coming from Lahore and other cities on 22 wheelers which block the traffic and also create breathing issues in the area”, he said.

Muhammad Yousaf, principle of a private school at Tatral, complained about drop in water level, fertile land going barren due to quarrying and ever increasing air and noise pollution;

“Poverty has increased as fertile land has turned barren due to quarrying. Now people have to buy wheat and milk”, he said.

Malik Ashraf, Tatral, said that pastures of locals were encroached for quarrying and building access roads.  Khizer, a property dealer from Wahula, said that even drinking water was not available.

“People are left with no option except to purchase 1000 gallons water tanker which cost Rs 1000 and only lasts for 2-3 days”, he said.

DC Chakwal Dr Omar Jahangir said that lack of rains and excessive extraction of water by cement factories and locals have caused drop in aquifer level. He acknowledged that the water consumption of factories was too high.

“75 per cent of the groundwater is used by factories and remaining 25 per cent by local people. Choa Saidan Shah normally receives the highest amount of rainfall in the entire Potohar region. The average rainfall has decreased and last winter there was no rains at all that resulted in worsening the situation”, he said, adding, the locals have the first right on groundwater.

“The cement factories have to make alternative arrangements for water. Then can get water from Jehlum riverbed. They will not be allowed to get water anymore. The need to make alternative arrangements or shift businesses to somewhere else”, he said.

DC Chakwal agreed that springs of Kahoon Valley were drying due to cement plants.

“There are engineering solutions to every problem which are expensive. Now an environmental crisis has developed and it has to be catered for”, he said.  When asked about one cement plant using garbage as fuel, he informed that the waste is taken from from Lahore (Mahmood Booti) and other cities. The waste is at first segregated (organic and inorganic separated). Using inorganic waste as fuel is economical and environment friendly, he said.