The Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) is set to rope in the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Ropar, to prepare a report on the possibility of drawing water from the Bist Doab canal to recharge groundwater in the Taunsa belt in SBS Nagar’s Balachaur subdivision to reduce the level of groundwater contamination.

Groundwater in more than 15 villages, including Taunsa and Rail Majra, situated on the banks of the Sutlej is badly contaminated as pharmaceutical units set up in the vicinity inject untreated water beneath the surface of the ground by digging deep wells.

The development came seven months after the Programme Monitoring and Management Group (PMMG) headed by PPCB chairman Kalan Singh Pannu directed authorities to engage consultant of repute survey these villages.

PPCB executive engineer Ashok Garg said in a meeting held by PPCB chief engineer GS Majithia in Ropar on Monday, it was finalised to give the contract to IIT Ropar and an estimated ₹70 lakh project cost will be borne by pharmaceutical units responsible for contaminating the groundwater.

An official said IIT Ropar experts will collect the groundwater samples and study the migration of contamination besides ascertaining the possibility of recharging it. In the early 2000s, the government had to ban hand pumps and wells after which the villagers have been getting water supply from an 800-foot deep borewell.

The villagers claim that due to water contamination, a number of people have lost their lives to cancer and other diseases.

As per date available with the state health department, 23 people have lost their lives to cancer in at Taunsa and Rail Majra since 2015. The villagers say the number of deaths is even higher.

Karan Rana, general secretary, Kandi Sangharsh Committee, said though the industries claim to have installed effluent treatment plant (ETP) they still inject untreated water into groundwater.

“Recently, farmers asked the industrial units for treated water to irrigate their wheat fields. A few days after, wheat crop on 70 acres got destroyed. This means the water is not being treated. The company later paid ₹15 lakh compensation to the affected farmers,” he said.

Dr Kuldeep Rai, district health officer (DHO) and nodal officer of the cancer control cell, said the problem is not that severe as the ratio of cancer patients from Taunsa belt villages and other villages is almost similar.