Sonbhadra: At the Rohiniya Damar village in Uttar Pradesh, 100 kilometres from Sonbhadra district’s main Robertsganj town, excessive fluoride in the ground water has spared no one. It hasn’t spared the old, most of whom walk totally bent, slowly with the help of sticks. While others like 65-year-old Shakuntala Devi have been bedridden for a few years now.
It hasn’t spared the young. Most children in the village already have deformed joints and teeth that are decaying very fast. Eight-year-old Kamlesh finds it difficult to even walk. His joints are already dysfunctional, a typical symptom of fluorosis.
At Rohiniya Damar, villagers claim 22 people have died in just the last year. There’s even a list with names and addresses. The Uttar Pradesh government though, claims to have no such record.
“I guess I am just biding my time. We have complained about the water to everyone possible. No one listens to us,” says Shakuntala Devi.
According to the UP government, of Sonbhadra’s 600 villages, 250 have excessive flouride in the ground water. 150 of these have levels much above what’s permissible.
Sonbhadra has 10 power plants, and many cement and aluminum factories, and coal mines. All of them claim their waste is not contaminating the ground water further.
On the ground, at Rohiniya Damar, the problem is not the government’s intention to solve the issue, but the execution. At the hand pump at the local school, a water purifier was installed as early as 2011, with water meant to pass through various levels of purification before being collected. Villagers say it worked for exactly a month.
A few years ago, a water treatment plant and a water supply project was also installed here, and in other villages following orders from the National Green Tribunal. The last time it worked was in 2015.
“I called up the junior engineer. He said I am no longer in charge of the area. I asked him for the new saheb’s number, he did not give it to me,” says the village caretaker, adding that not one part has been stolen.
In 2011, a study by the Centre for Science and Environment found alarming levels of mercury, lead, arsenic and chromium, along with flouride in the ground water. The government says it’s doing whatever’s possible.
“You see we try our very best to get all this equipment repaired, the villagers also need to tell us on time. But we are trying,” says Ruby Prasad, the ruling Samajwadi Party’s lawmaker from Sonbhadra.