Save drink­ing wa­ter!

Par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee asks the Union Min­istry to de­vise a time-bound plan to ad­dress ground­wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion across In­dia

Millennium Post - - Editorial - MAYANK AGGARWAL

Ground­wa­ter in over 25,000 habi­ta­tions across In­dia is con­tam­i­nated with ex­cess ar­senic and flu­o­ride lev­els. To ad­dress the is­sue, a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee has now asked the Union Min­istry of Drink­ing Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion (MDWS) to de­vise a time-bound plan to achieve the tar­get of sup­ply­ing clean drink­ing wa­ter to the con­tam­i­nated ar­eas.

In In­dia, 15,811 habi­ta­tions are af­fected by ar­senic and 9,660 by flu­o­ride, said the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s Min­is­ter of State for Min­istry of Drink­ing Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion Ramesh Chan­dappa Ji­ga­ji­nagi while re­ply­ing to a query in Par­lia­ment in De­cem­ber 2018.

Of the 15,811 habi­ta­tions af­fected by high ar­senic lev­els, 13,577 (about 85 per cent) are in West Ben­gal (9,250) and As­sam (4,327) alone. As far as flu­o­rideaf­fected habi­ta­tions are con­cerned, of the 9,660, Ra­jasthan has the most with 5,176 habi­ta­tions fol­lowed by West Ben­gal with 1,263 habi­ta­tions.

Last year, in March 2018, the par­lia­men­tary stand­ing com­mit­tee on ru­ral devel­op­ment ex­pressed con­cern on ar­senic and flu­o­ride con­tam­i­na­tion in drink­ing wa­ter in many habi­ta­tions and asked the MDWS to take steps on “war foot­ing” for a so­lu­tion, stat­ing that the “pace of work” to ad­dress the is­sue is “ex­tremely slow”, lead­ing to more habi­ta­tions be­ing af­fected.

In re­sponse to com­mit­tee’s con­cerns, the drink­ing wa­ter min­istry, in July 2018, noted that “ru­ral drink­ing wa­ter is a state sub­ject” and the tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial sup­port it al­ready pro­vides to the states un­der the Na­tional Ru­ral Drink­ing Wa­ter Pro­gramme (NRDWP) can be utilised for tack­ling drink­ing wa­ter qual­ity prob­lems with pri­or­ity to ar­senic and flu­o­ride af­fected habi­ta­tions.

The par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee, led by All In­dia Anna Dravida Mun­netra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader P

Venu­gopal, in its March 2018 re­port had also noted that “un­til and un­less the habi­ta­tions af­fected by con­tam­i­na­tion are pro­vided with ad­e­quate piped wa­ter sup­ply, the habi­ta­tions will keep on reel­ing un­der the ad­verse ef­fects of con­tam­i­na­tion”.

Ar­senic is a car­cino­genic el­e­ment and is as­so­ci­ated with skin, lung, blad­der, kid­ney and liver can­cer. Ex­cess con­sump­tion of flu­o­rides through drink­ing wa­ter and food over a pro­longed pe­riod can cause health-re­lated dis­or­ders like den­tal, skele­tal and non-skele­tal flu­o­ro­sis, be­sides in­duc­ing age­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of In­dian Stan­dards in its IS 10500-2012 stan­dards, the ac­cept­able limit of ar­senic in drink­ing wa­ter is 0.01 mil­ligram per litre (per­mis­si­ble limit in ab­sence of al­ter­nate source is 0.05 mg/l) and for flu­o­ride is 1 mil­ligram per litre (per­mis­si­ble limit in ab­sence of al­ter­nate source is 1.5 mg/l).

As per Au­gust 2016 data, a pop­u­la­tion of about 21 mil­lion in over 23,500 habi­ta­tions were af­fected by ar­senic and flu­o­ride con­tam­i­nated ground­wa­ter.

The is­sue of con­tam­i­nated wa­ter was brought up once again re­cently by the

par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee in its lat­est re­port which was pre­sented in Par­lia­ment on De­cem­ber 31, 2018.

“The com­mit­tee in their rec­om­men­da­tion had specif­i­cally asked the min­istry to en­sure that all the states pro­vide piped wa­ter sup­ply to the con­tam­i­nated habi­ta­tions. In their ac­tion­taken re­ply, the min­istry had in­formed the com­mit­tee that they have ad­vised the states to tackle wa­ter qual­ity af­fected habi­ta­tions in ru­ral ar­eas by Piped Wa­ter Sup­ply (PWS) Schemes us­ing safe wa­ter sources,” noted the lat­est re­port. But since PWS schemes take nearly three to four years to com­mis­sion, the min­istry had also ad­vised the states to in­stall com­mu­nity wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion plants in iden­ti­fied qual­ity-af­fected ru­ral habi­ta­tions.

The com­mit­tee ap­pre­ci­ated the steps taken by the drink­ing wa­ter min­istry but said that “piped wa­ter sup­ply is the only so­lu­tion to tackle wa­ter qual­ity is­sues and, there­fore, a time-bound plan is needed to be put in op­er­a­tion to achieve the tar­get to sup­ply clean wa­ter to the con­tam­i­nated ar­eas.”

It re­it­er­ated that the drink­ing wa­ter min­istry “must take up the mat­ter with the state gov­ern­ments till the piped wa­ter sup­ply reaches each house­hold, ar­range­ment should be made to pro­vide al­ter­nate sup­ply of clean wa­ter by way of in­stalling com­mu­nity wa­ter pu­rifi­ca­tion plants (CWPPS) in iden­ti­fied con­tam­i­nated af­fected ru­ral habi­ta­tions on pri­or­ity ba­sis and also ex­pe­dite the process of sup­ply of piped wa­ter and ap­prise the com­mit­tee in this re­gard”.

In March 2017, the drink­ing wa­ter min­istry launched the Na­tional Wa­ter Qual­ity Sub-mis­sion (NWQSM) un­der the NRDWP which fo­cused on pro­vid­ing safe drink­ing wa­ter to ar­senic and flu­o­ride af­fected habi­ta­tions “over a span of four years, sub­ject to avail­abil­ity of funds”. The to­tal ex­pen­di­ture for the sub­mis­sion was es­ti­mated at Rs 25,000 crore (Rs 250 bil­lion) and of that, Rs 12,500 crore (Rs 125 bil­lion) was to be pro­vided by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment start­ing from the fi­nan­cial year 2017-18.

A year ear­lier, with a fo­cus on deal­ing with ar­senic and flu­o­ride con­tam­i­na­tion, the In­dian gov­ern­ment had re­leased an­other Rs 1,000 crores (Rs 10 bil­lion), in March 2016, for com­mis­sion­ing of CWPPS and last mile con­nec­tiv­ity of piped wa­ter sup­ply schemes.

Satish Sinha, who is an as­so­ciate di­rec­tor with Tox­ics Link, how­ever, ques­tioned the ef­forts of the gov­ern­ment and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to pro­vide safe drink­ing wa­ter to peo­ple. He stated that the gov­ern­ment is not do­ing enough and it should be look­ing at avail­able tech­nolo­gies to ad­dress the is­sue of con­tam­i­na­tion.

“I think the ef­fort has not been ad­e­quate,” said Sinha. “If you can’t make safe wa­ter avail­able to peo­ple then what are you do­ing? Where is the ac­tion, plan or vi­sion?” he ques­tioned.

(The ar­ti­cle is in an ar­range­ment with Mongabay.com, a source for en­vi­ron­men­tal news re­port­ing and anal­y­sis. The views ex­pressed in the ar­ti­cle are those of Mongabay.com)

Piped wa­ter sup­ply is the only so­lu­tion to tackle wa­ter qual­ity is­sues and, there­fore, a time-bound plan is needed to be put in op­er­a­tion to achieve the tar­get to sup­ply clean wa­ter to the con­tam­i­nated ar­eas

As of 2016, about 21 mil­lion in over 23,500 habi­ta­tions were af­fected by ar­senic and flu­o­ride con­tam­i­na­tion of ground­wa­ter

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