Fluoride Action Network

Unknown cause of diseases haunts a Patiala village on Haryana border

Source: The Times of India | September 24th, 2014 | By Amaninder Sharma
Location: India

ARNETU (Patiala): Situated on the edge of Patiala district, on the Punjab-Haryana border, Arnetu village is battling the mystery of diseases due to which around two dozen of its youth and children are suffering from birth disorders like bone deformities, cerebral palsy and mental retardation. Villagers are still unaware of the cause of these diseases that have taken a toll on their future generation.

Having no direct road link with its nearest town till two decades ago, Arnetu still has a significant population of children and youth suffering from deformities, who can be spotted in every major street of the village, which has a population of around 2,200, most of whom dalits.

Arnetu sarpanch Gurbaksh Ram and other elders claimed that there were 25 such individuals suffering from such diseases, the causes of which were still a mystery to them. Villager Amar Ram hurriedly prepared a list of 22 residents suffering such deformities or illness.

“Infants with problems like metal retardation and bone deformities were born in the village till 5-6 years ago. However, what worries us is the cause leading to such disorders, and why it affected our village only. Nobody has told us the cause so far. How can anybody assure that such a curse would not return to the village, without knowing the root cause of the problem,” he asked.

Random visits by TOI revealed that the villagers’ claims were not baseless. Sukho Devi, mother of seven-year-old Manjit Ram, who has an unbalanced gait due to deformities in the upper and lower limbs, said, “He can’t walk and express himself properly. His condition is the same since birth. We tried treatments from several doctors, but to no avail.”

The 27-year-old blind son of farmer Balkar Singh is virtually bed-ridden and is only four feet tall. “His bones are very brittle and get fractured even with a little pressure on them. He can’t even see and speak,” said Balkar with a grim look on his face.

Balkar’s another son, born in 1991, remained mentally retarded and died at the age of 11.

Mandeep Kumar, 6-year-old son of daily wager Hans Raj, is known in the village for having “unusual facial expressions, repeated seizures and abnormal physical activities associated with hyper activism.”

“He is having fits (seizures) since birth. Till one year ago, frequency of seizures was as high as 20-22 per day. Despite treatment from a city hospital, his condition has hardly improved,” said Hans Raj.

Arnetu sarpanch said that a team of medical specialists had visited the village a few years ago. “They collected samples but never returned to tell us about the cause of such disorders. We were told that it’s due to water. But the quality of water is poor in this entire belt, not in our village alone,” he pointed out.

Docs blame high fluorine content in water

Patiala civil surgeon Dr H S Bali confirmed the problem of disorders among children in Arnetu and attributed it to high fluorine content in groundwater in villages located closer to Haryana border. “In general, such problems are common in villages located on the banks of Ghaggar river in this area,” he said.

Although a waterworks tank was constructed in the village around 15 years ago, the village sarpanch said that reverse osmosis (RO) system should be installed there. “Though waterworks tubewell drains water from 600 feet depth, an RO system should be installed on it as polluted water in Ghaggar, which flows just less than 200 meters away, may be polluting the subsoil water of our village,” he said.

“A problem can be there in this village as incidence of such disorders is common in villages located on the banks of Ghaggar in this area. A survey was conducted four years ago in which a large number of TB cases were detected. We will conduct a special visit to find out such cases, if any, in Arnetu,” Dr Bali added.