As the city rushes headlong towards an acute shortage of water, many of the city’s farmhouses and swimming pools are not helping matters by abstracting ground water illegally in the name of recreational services, Pakistan Today has observed.
Absence of any water law in the city is helping farmhouses and swimming pools to abstract ground water and then waste it into the drains.
These farmhouses and recreational centres are being operated as businesses in Lahore’s surrounding areas such as Bedian, Manawan, Raiwind Road, Ferozepur Road and Multan Road.
For a long time, the people of Lahore have been visiting water parks, especially during summers to beat the scorching heat and to have a grand old time. They make a picnic out of it with friends and family having a nice day out. People come out to these parks throughout summer but especially on weekends when these places are swarmed with hundreds, sometimes thousands of people.
However, for the last few years, a number of private farmhouses have started attracting people interested in having a picnic in a relatively private setting. The main attraction of these farmhouses is the swimming pools that they maintain.
But while a water park has rules and procedures to follow regarding the supply of water, its treatment and disposal, the farmhouses operate without any regulatory oversight by the government and as a result are free to use however much water they can abstract from the ground and then dump it willy nilly.
FARMHOUSES COULDN’T HAVE COME AT A WORSE TIME:
Farmhouse is an old concept of using land for agricultural and residential purpose. A few farmhouses have been operating in suburban areas of Lahore for a long time, but during Pervez Musharraf’s regime, a lot of new farmhouses were built.
Hundreds of tube wells were already installed by farmers for agricultural purposes in the suburban areas of Lahore.
But as the farmhouses became more popular with the general citizenry, they were increasingly used for commercial activities. Dozens of farmhouses now advertise online with ads that read like this: “Farmhouse available for rent; for wedding events, concerts, family picnics, stay, get together and particularly for swimming.”
The advertisements show that the rent for these farmhouses can range from Rs 10,000 to 100,000 per day.
To cater to the renters, the farmhouses are abstracting ground water illegally and then dumping it in the nearby drains without any fear. The rent charged for the swimming pools is a lot less than the rent of the farmhouses, as their main offering, water, is available to them virtually free of cost.
NOBODY KNOWS HOW BAD IT IS; NOBODY KNOWS WHAT CAN BE DONE AND NOBODY THINKS IT’S THEIR RESPONSIBILITY:
According to a WWF-Pakistan report published in 2014 on the water situation in Lahore, more than 10,000 tube-wells have been installed for agricultural purpose in the Lahore region.
A spokesman for Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) Lahore told Pakistan Today that the Agency is only responsible for the tube wells operating under its jurisdiction and they don’t know the situation of water abstraction in other areas.
Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) is supposed to be responsible for the installation of water supply schemes in the rural areas of Lahore but the department has no data available of private tube wells installed at farmhouses and swimming pools.
Experts believe that decreasing ground water is also posing a serious threat to the environment. When contacted, District Environment Officer Lahore Anjum Riaz said the department is concerned about the scarcity of water, but they don’t know how many tube wells are busy abstracting ground water in Lahore’s suburban areas. He said they are unable to take any strict measure against the violators. He confirmed that water extraction from surrounding areas also affects the water table inside the city.
Chief Monitoring Irrigation Habibullah Bodla told Pakistan Today that the department has nothing to do with the private farmhouses. He said that since these are being operated at agricultural lands, the agriculture department should be asked regarding this issue.
When Pakistan Today contacted the director general extension Agricultural department, he said that the department has no record of farmhouses or the tube wells installed there. He said the department is not responsible for what is happening inside the farmhouses.
“These farmhouses are constructed on agricultural lands but once there is construction, it goes under the jurisdiction of the TMA or the Revenue department,” he said.
To make matters worse, there are a few housing societies busy in selling more lands for farmhouses.
An owner of a farmhouse situated on the Bedian Road said that for the last few years, people mostly come to the farmhouses for swimming purposes. He said that he uses the water abstracted from the ground to irrigate his land so not a single drop of water is wasted at his farmhouse, but that all operators are so scrupulous.
A number of swimming pools pose as farmhouses and many of them – especially on the Ferozepur Road, Raiwind Road and Multan Road – waste almost all the water into the drains flowing near them.
IN THE EYE OF THE STORM:
According to data from the Pakistani federal government’s Planning and Development Division, the overall availability of water has decreased from 1,299 m³ per capita in 1996-97 to 1,101 m³ per capita in 2004-05 to around 800 m³ right now. In 1951, the availability of water was 5,000 m³ per capita.
According to the Falkenmark Water Stress Indicator, a country or region is said to experience “water stress” when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 m³ per person per year. At levels between 1,700 and 1,000 m³ per person per year, periodic or limited water shortages can be expected. When a country is below 1,000 cubic meters per person per year, the country then faces water scarcity.
But despite the fact that the acute water shortage that everyone worries about is not just coming, it is already here, the government is reluctant to make any law or semblance of a policy in this regard.
The Punjab government put some effort into coping with water related issues in the city in 2008 for the first time. The government agencies including WASA, Punjab Housing Urban Development and Public Health Engineering Department had drafted “Punjab Municipal Water Act” to ensure the delivery of safe water to the citizens. The draft of the Bill proposed water monitoring, conservation, protection, utilisation, exploitation and development of water resources and regulation of all municipal water services, including quality assurance of water in the city. A high powered commission was also proposed in this act to regulate water tariff. However, the draft of the Bill is still lying in limbo despite the passage of eight years.