This March, Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao will launch a water treatment plant that will provide safe drinking water to thousands of households in Nalgonda district long affected by fluorosis, a crippling disease which affects bones and teeth due to excessive intake of fluorine-heavy water.
Built at a cost of Rs 436 crore under the Telangana government’s flagship programme Mission Bhagiratha, the 25-acre plant in S Lingotam village will provide safe drinking water to 585 villages affected by fluorosis for the next 30 years, M Sampath Reddy, executive engineer of Rural Water Supply department, said.
“We shall provide 100% safe drinking water with zero fluoride content to every household from March,” Reddy said, adding that the water can be used for other requirements also.
Nearly 11.53 million people in 230 districts of 19 states of India face the risk of fluorosis, according to a Union health ministry study in 2016.
In Telangana, Nalgonda has been the worst affected district, with more than a lakh people suffering from the disease. The high fluorine content here is attributed to very low groundwater levels.
According to the World Health Organisation norms, the maximum permissible limit of fluorine in drinking water is 1 milligram per litre.
“However, in most parts of the district, it ranges from 10 mg to 19 mg,” said K Subhash of District Fluoride Monitoring Committee, adding that in Batlapalli village of Marriguda block, authorities detected a few years ago that the fluoride content was as high as 29 mg per litre.
“The village has since been abandoned and the people moved to another place a kilometre away where fluoride content is around 9 mg,” he said.
Villagers in the district, especially in blocks like Munugode, Nampally, Marriguda and Devarakonda, are found with crippled limbs, twisted joints, bent spine, disfigured faces, stunted growth and yellowish or brownish enamel on their teeth.
Veeramalla Rajitha, 24, daughter of farm labourers of Khuda Baksh Palle in Munugode, about 90 km from Hyderabad, suffers from skeletal flourosis or severe deformity of limbs and curved spine. Over the last few years, she lost her teeth completely and she could not grow more than two feet height. “What we were drinking all these years was just poison. But we had no alternative,” she said.
Ahead of every election, politicians have promised to resolve the issue. During the movement for separate Telangana state, KCR promised to provide a permanent solution to the fluorosis problem, if the state became a reality.
Measures taken by the previous governments of the erstwhile-united Andhra Pradesh have been insufficient. “There were as many as eight de-fluoridation plants in different parts of the district a decade ago, but none of them is working now,” Subhash said.
In 2013-14, the then-Congress government laid drinking water pipelines for some of the affected villages to supply Krishna river water. “It also set up RO plants (reverse osmosis) plants in villages to treat ground water, but it did not provide a permanent solution,” Subhash said.
With KCR coming up with the Mission Bhagiratha programme, the villagers are hopeful that they would get clean water from now.
“At least our next generations will not suffer from this dreaded disease,” said Lakshmamma who runs a tea stall at Marriguda.
The problem, however, does not end with provision of drinking water. The villagers consume rice, vegetables and fruits grown on water polluted with fluorine and the government’s next plan is to provide canal irrigation from Krishna river through Palamuru-Ranga Reddy lift irrigation scheme and to improve ground water table.
Subhash hoped that the irrigation facility will liberate Nalgonda from the clutches of fluorosis to a large extent.