NITI Aayog will provide Rs 1,000 crore to save a large population in various states where people are forced to consume groundwater that contains excess of health-crippling arsenic and fluoride.
The plan is to install community water purification plants (CWPPs). Each of which would provide 1,000 litres of drinking water an hour for which users will have to pay 10 paise per litre. Groundwater contamination – also including that of iron, salinity and nitrate – has become a serious public health crisis, particularly in rural pockets, affecting over 3.61 crore people in 63,831 pockets across half of India’s districts, latest government data shows.
In 201, five crore people in over one lakh rural habitations did not have access to safe drinking water. While excess fluoride content can lead to fluorosis, which affects teeth and bones, excess arsenic leads to skin problems, hits the nervous system and reduces IQ level among children. It can also cause cancer.
NITI Aayog, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would provide a one-time assistance to ensure ‘at least 8-10 litres’ water per person per day.
However, the government’s own policy says a person should get at least 40 litres of water a day. “This would be an interim and shortterm measure,” a top government official told Mail Today on Tuesday. The government has released Rs 2,758.45 crore to states in the current fiscal to provide safe drinking water in rural areas. It also aims to cover 90 per cent of the rural population through piped supply schemes by 2022. The decision to install CWPPs was taken after the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) and India’s think-tank and policy forum on December 15 held a video conference with 14 major arsenic and fluorideaffected states like Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
While NITI Aayog would fund only the capital cost of CWPPs, the states some of which have already installed CWPPs, would ensure their operation and maintenance for at least seven years. They would also have to provide raw water sources, structures and electricity to run these plants. Pockets across 276 districts have excess fluoride in groundwater. At least 387 districts, of the 676 in the country, have nitrate above permissible levels. Pockets in 87 districts have high arsenic content. This is even more serious because in rural India facilities to deal with health problems arising out of water contamination are extremely poor.
Top two worst-affected states in terms of overall contamination are Rajasthan (86,83,403 people in 21,927 pockets) and West Bengal (89,74,986 people in 10,807 pockets), government data as on December 2015 shows. Purely in terms of fluoride, Rajasthan has 43.74 lakh affected people in 6,904 pockets. For Karnataka, the number stands at 7.79 lakh people in 1,044 pockets.
States such as Punjab and Assam are facing both arsenic and fluoride problems. Drinking water supply is a state subject but MDWS provides financial and technical assistance. Yet the policy of 40 litres per person per day is working only in 12,89,057 habitations out of a total of 17,13,003 in the country while 3,60,415 are partially covered. Water expert Himanshu Thakkar says depletion of groundwater levels, due to excess use and destruction of recharge systems, leads to contamination. Rainwater harvesting is the most cost effective and appropriate option. “Underground storages can also be considered,” he adds.
Manoj Misra, another expert, says much of this contamination is also industry generated. “Why should the tax payer be made to foot the bill? We must ask these tough questions before a quantum shift in rural drinking water supply is attempted,” he says. Nearly 80 per cent of India’s rural drinking water comes from underground sources. The plan’s emphasis is to shift from ground water to piped supply of surface water, minimising hand pump use.