Thousands of people across the state have been condemned to drink groundwater with naturally high quantities of arsenic and fluoride that can have serious repercussions on their health, according to the central government. However, the Gujarat government has turned a blind eye to the concerns raised by the Centre asserting that not a single case of fluorosis and arsenicosis has been reported from the state. To top it all, a sanctioned sum of over Rs 150 crore by the Union government meant for ‘arsenic and fluoride- affected habitations’ remains unused. Government and private hospitals have maintained that they have been steadily receiving patients with ailments caused by arsenic and fluoride, but the state continues to maintain an ostrichlike approach to the grave situation.
WHAT THE CENTRE SAYS
According to the Union Ministry of Water Resources, 34,846 habitations of Gujarat have been identified where groundwater contains arsenic and fluoride. Of these, the ministry had asked the state government to provide drinking water and sanitation to 1,245 habitations, but so far in the past seven months it has been provided to only 4 habitations. As per the ministry’s website, 18 districts in Gujarat, including Ahmedabad, Amreli, Anand, Banaskantha, Bharuch, Bhavnagar, Dahod, Junagadh, Kutch, Mehsana, Narmada, Panchmahals, Patan, Rajkot, Sabarkantha, Surat, Surendranagar and Vadodara, groundwater has been found to contain fluoride about permissible limit.
WHAT THE STATE SAYS KC
Tripathi, head of Water and Sanitation Management Organisation (WASMO) claims that in the past five years, not a single health-related case of fluoride and arsenic has been reported in Gujarat. “As per data provided to us by the health department, cases related to arsenic and fluoride haven’t been recorded in any hospital in the state. There is a zero-affected person,” said Tripathi.Medical experts, however, have a different story to tell. According to Dr Vivek Kute, nephrologist at Institute of Kidney Diseases and Research Centre (IKDRC), “Arsenic is a heavy metal which has severe impact on kidney.
Though it is tough to identify heavy metal poisoning cases, we get at least 2 to 3 cases every year caused by arsenic mainly from industrial areas.”Presence of arsenic and fluoride can contaminate the drinking water which can damage kidney, liver, bone marrow and other viral body organs. “We get more cases related to fluoride which is as dangerous as arsenic. Every year, we get around 8 to 10 such cases. It leads to bone deformation, affects mental development and pregnancy,” said Dr Jayesh Trivedi of SAL hospital. The areas where high quantity of arsenic and fluoride was found in the underground water were supposed to be provided with surface water facility through pipelines as alternative source of drinking.
“The data regarding these chemicals is maintained by water department. For arsenic there is no such data available due to few cases but fluoride is found in significant amount in North Gujarat,” said JP Gupta, health commissioner. On July 8, 2015, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation issued a notice to Gujarat under the subject line, ‘Physical and Financial Progress under National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP)’, that even after lapse of three months of the current financial year, the state hasn’t even reported any expenditure yet.
The Centre had provided fund of Rs 152.61 crore meant for ‘arsenic and fluoride-affected habitations’. The Union government has also instructed the Ministry of Finance to provide further funds only after taking into account the trend of expenditure by the state. When asked the reason for not submitting the report to central government and for keeping the allocated amount when there are no such cases, Tripathi said, “We will invest the money in providing better alternative sources of drinking water to people.” Bina Jadhav, an activist working for the poor and displaced in the city, said, “The focus of the state government is mainly on making smart cities but the fund meant for poor people is ignored.
This money could have saved many lives and people from suffering.” However, this is not the first time that the state government has been served notice for ignoring the activities under the programme. On January 30, the National Human Rights Commission had issued a notice to the chief secretary of Gujarat to provide a detailed report on the steps taken to address fluorosis in drinking water. The reply was supposed to be submitted within six weeks, but it has not been done, according to government sources.
DAMAGE TO VITAL ORGANS
Though there is no accurate data related to the deaths caused by drinking contaminated water, a report by WHO states that Gujarat is one of the states where people have been suffering from fluorosis and arsenicosis. The same issue was highlighted in a CAG report of 2013 that about 32 per cent of Gujarat’s drinking water sources were found to be contaminated in a pre-monsoon survey, but the villagers were not alerted. “Arsenic and fluorosis have severe effect on the health of people. It is a slow poison. It affects vital body organs like kidney, liver which can prove fatal. To ensure better health, it is essential to drink fresh water,” said HL Trivedi, urologist, and founder of IKDRC.