JAGDALPUR: This small hamlet of 2000 odd people in the Bastar District, about 2 kms off the Raipur-Jagdalpur state highway, may have nothing to boast about. On the face of it, it’s just like any of the other tens of thousands of nondescript villages of India, where people struggle to eke out a living for themselves, but it stands testimony to the apathy and neglect of the Chhattisgarh government.

As one enters this village, the first structure to catch the eye is the Primary-Middle School, Bakel. The noise of playful children shouting at the top of their voices is clearly audible from a distance, as if all is well. But once these very children are in sight the reality strikes hard as once sees most of them limping their way around, with some literally dragging themselves, and their smiles, though innocent, reveal their pain.

This village shot to infamy almost three years ago in 2010 when it was identified as one of the many areas in the state affected with high levels of fluoride content in ground water. In Jagdalpur Tehsil alone there are nearly 100 villages affected by this problem.

Almost every household in the village is affected with fluorosis, dental skeletal or both, and is a tell-tale of not only the adverse impact of the high fluoride contents in water but also the negligence of the government that failed to provide safe and clean drinking water to the residents.

Kuldhar Nayik, a teacher in the primary school, is candid and says that 50% of the 2000 od people staying in the village have been affected have health issues related to consumption of fluoride from drinking water. “One or two person in each family is affected with bone stiffness, dental problem and skeletal fluorosis”, he says.

Anita Marai, another teacher who teaches Classes VI to VIII, said majority of students have stained and black teeth due to fluorosis. She recalls how a student, Janglu Ram, who was absolutely normal when he joined school in class I got deformed, with his legs twisting and bending in a span of just one year. “He can’t walk straight now”, she said pointing at another class V student, Jairam. And when you ask Jairam about the problem, he smiles, his teeth showing the scars of fluorosis, and says, “aise hi chalta hun” (I walk this way only).

The village Sarpanch, Girdhar Kashyap, said that the problem of high fluoride was identified in 2010 and since then the government has taken several steps to control it. He said many hand pumps have been sealed and a fluoride treatment plant has been installed at one of them. He admits that a large number of people, including children, have been affected by it but says that “nothing can be done about it now”.

For obvious reasons, the Sarpanch say’s nothing about the role of the government but a couple of people TOI spoke to were bitter about the way things have been handled. “We didn’t dig the hand pumps ourselves. The government did it so why wasn’t the water tested before we were made to drink it”, says an elder while refusing to identify himself.

“It’s fine for the Sarpanch and the government to say that things are better now but who’s responsible for the deformity of my child,” said another resident requesting anonymity. He claimed that the situation was still far from safe and only more time will reveal the truth behind the government’s claim of combating the problem. “We have no choice. To live we need water and thus will continue to use the water from the hand pumps”, he said while pointing at a hand pump located near the sarpanch’s house.

Dr RN Netam, Joint director, Bastar division, said that limbs deformity and skin pigmentation are common problem related to excessive intake of fluoride. He said high fluoride leads to improper calcification (the process in which calcium salts build up in soft tissue, causing it to harden) that can result in skeletal deformities.

According to WHO “Fluoride is one of the very few chemicals that has been shown to cause significant effects in people through drinking-water. Fluoride has beneficial effects on teeth at low concentrations in drinking-water, but excessive exposure to fluoride in drinking-water, or in combination with exposure to fluoride from other sources, can give rise to a number of adverse effects. These range from mild dental fluorosis to crippling skeletal fluorosis as the level and period of exposure increases”.

Talking to TOI, Jagdalpur collector, Ambalgan P, admitted that the problem was vast but claimed that the government was in control of it. “We have identified 219 hand pumps in 67 villages where Fluoride content is high and beyond the permissible limit of one ppm. While the severe ones have been sealed, the others are being treated or installed with filtration plants”, he said.

Dr KR Maurya, Chief Medical and Health officer in Jagdalpur said Bakel is not the only village where hand pumps are affected with high fluoride contents. Other villages where the problem is acute include, Khandsara, Salhemeta, Nandpura in Bastar block and total 52 villages in Bastar district.