The western zone bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in Pune has passed an order prohibiting unauthorized extraction of groundwater for commercial use after it was found that the presence of large quantities of fluoride in it is affecting villagers in 12 districts.
These include Yavatmal, Nanded, Chandrapur, Beed, Latur, Washim, Parbhani, Hingoli, Jalna, Jalgaon, Nagpur and Bhandara.
In their order, the bench of justice V R Kingaonkar and expert Ajay Deshpande asked government authorities to prohibit extraction of ground water for commercial purposes by unauthorized dealers and businesses dealing in packaged water.
The tribunal had earlier issued notices to the collectors in these districts seeking their response to the petition filed by city-based Sahayog Trust stating adverse effects of high levels of fluoride in groundwater on people’s health.
The district collectors were asked to list steps taken to mitigate the exploitation of groundwater for commercial purpose. As of now, only Latur district has submitted an affidavit, but the NGT said the affidavit does not clearly mention how the district plans to deal with the issue.
The order though does not prohibit use of private bore wells nor does it prevent the government from requisitioning wells for drinking water in areas facing water scarcity.
The petition was filed by a group of 11 lawyers from the trust, last year. It stated that high level of fluoride in the water was making the villagers sick. The petition was later amended to include issues on unchecked exploitation of groundwater.
“This pertains to rampant and illegal digging of bore wells. Water extraction is taking place without due permission in these areas which already face a water crisis,” said Asim Sarode, advocate and one of the petitioners. If bore wells are dug deeper than permissible levels, then water which is extracted has a dangerously high concentration of fluoride, nitrate and iron, he said. “This water is then sold in pouches and bottles for drinking,” he added.
The petitioners want all district collectors to be issued directives to submit reports of persons affected by skeletal and dental fluorosis and analysis of water quality, level of contamination in groundwater and the percentage of fluoride found in the water. They have sought a reply by May 13.
The petition has also demanded that good quality drinking water be supplied to all the fluorosis-affected areas and compensation, medical treatment and medicines should be provided to persons suffering from fluorosis.
Sarode said it has recently come to their notice that as many as 26 districts in Maharashtra, including some parts of Pune, are affected by problems of dental and skeletal fluorosis.