AGRA: Scientific studies conducted over a decade ago showed that water in some villages on the outskirts of Agra were unfit for human consumption. Skeletal deformities are alarmingly high in Patti Pachgai and Rohta villages, where entire populations suffer from visible deformity, caused because of the high levels of fluorine in drinking water.
Health department officials say fluorine in drinking water is far higher than the permissible limit of 1.00 ppm (parts per million), and villagers suffer its crippling effects. Villagers complain that the administration has done nothing to mitigate their plight.
A study by the B R Ambedkar University in 2011 showed the fluoride in groundwater was because fluoride-bearing minerals like fluorspar and fluorite were getting dissolved in water. The areas soil is reportedly rich in these minerals.
A team of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, Delhi, too, visited villages in three blocks of Agra district — Barauli Ahir, Khairagarh and Akola —in the year 2000. That team too had found that water was not safe for drinking in these villages, and recommended immediate action to save local people.
Nothing much, however, has changed for the local people despite all the studies and recommendations. Locals depend on groundwater, and their medical problems get scant attention.
Surendra (20) a tailor by profession faces a daily struggle to make ends meet. His entire family suffers debilitating disease, with severely deformed bones in the legs.
Surendra says he developed the ailment when he was just six months old. Both his legs are bent inwards at the knee, and he is so crippled that he cannot walk long. Riding a bicycle is out of the question.
His anger was evident as the TOI team visited. He said teams of media people have descended on the village, but nothing ever came of the visits. Villagers were just another “story”, he said.
“It will only bring shame to the village, nothing else. No one is concerned,” Surendra angrily told the TOI team.
Surendra’s mother Bhu Devi (65) said the handicap pension of Rs 1,800 that they were earlier promised by the administration every six months never reached them. “This is God’s will. What can we do? Can your write-up help us get the pension?” she asked, adding that the pension stopped reaching one-and-a-half years ago.
Vikram Singh (21), who earns his livelihood by making shoes, said, “One pipeline was laid here a few years ago, and we had a better water supply. But that pipe broke, and was never repaired. We are back to depending on groundwater.”
Vikram is confined to his house, since walking is a tough task for him. His 60-year-old mother, with similar deformities, helps him make shoes at home.
Health department officials said there was no solution other than improving water supply. “Water obtained from deep boring of around 500 feet will be far better than what is taken out from shallow wells. If bringing water to the area is difficult, then deep boring should be done to alleviate the problem,” an official said.
Agra district magistrate Pankaj Kumar told TOI he would send a team to inspect the area. “We will definitely take steps to improve water supply in the area. The department will also try to find reasons for the broken pipelines,” he said.
Local people said many in the area were plagued by water-related problems. Besides the deformities, there were people who complained of joint pains and brittle teeth. Yellow and deformed teeth were also quite common in the village.