More than four crore people in rural India drink water contaminated by heavy metals, fluoride, arsenic, and nitrate.

West Bengal is the worst-affected with 39 per cent of India’s affected population living in that State. About 1.57 crore rural residents of Bengal drink metal-contaminated water. Rajasthan has 65 lakh rural people putting their health at risk while Bihar has 43 lakh people ingesting contaminated water.

Widespread problem

As per data from the Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, 16 States have a rural population of more than one lakh depending on metal-contaminated water. Of these, seven – West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar, Punjab, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Tripura – have more than 10 lakh affected people.

Rajasthan tops the list of States in fluoride and salinity contamination, affecting 33 lakh and 25 lakh people respectively. The State also tops in nitrate contamination with 7 lakh people directly affected.

West Bengal leads in arsenic and iron contamination, with 96 lakh people in the State consuming arsenic water and 49 lakh drinking iron-contaminated water.

Metal contamination

Punjab is the worst affected when it comes to heavy metal contamination with 22 lakh people dependent on metal-contaminated water. Punjab has all types of metallic water contamination while West Bengal has not reported any nitrate contamination.

Heavy metals are a metallic chemical element. Higher concentration of heavy metals can lead to poisoning. According a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, excessive amounts of fluoride in drinking water expose people to risks ranging from crippling skeletal problems to milder dental conditions.

The WHO has warned that long-term intake of such water leads to arsenic poisoning or arsenicosis, with cancer of skin, bladder, kidney or lung or diseases of skin (colour changes, and hard patches on palms and soles), or blood vessels of legs and feet. Fresh evidence indicates a possible association between intake of contaminated water and the onset of diabetes, hypertension and reproductive disorders, states the WHO document.

Central allocation

According to information given in the Lok Sabha by the Ministry, the Centre released ?1,000 crore in March 2016 for the commissioning of community water purification plants and last-mile connectivity of piped water supply schemes to deal with arsenic and fluoride contamination.

In 2017, the Ministry launched National Water Quality Sub-Mission to provide safe drinking water to 27,544 arsenic/fluoride affected rural habitations in a span of four years, subject to availability of funds. Rural drinking water supply is a State subject and hence, for improving the coverage of safe drinking water to rural population, Ministry supplements the efforts of the States by providing them with technical and financial assistance through the Centrally sponsored National Rural Drinking Water Programme.

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