Pond-Based Filtered Water Project Shows Way
By Krishnendu Bandyopadhyay / Gaighata (North 24 Parganas):
Open-pond arsenic-free filtered water project at Madhusudankati in North 24-Parganas’ Gaighata block, 70 km north-east of Kolkata, is giving a ray of hope to nearly 30 million arsenic-hit people living in eight districts of Bengal. Sulabh, which spearheaded the nation’s first community-based hygiene movement, has not only set up the plant, but has also found a way out sustaining the water project through a unique rural entrepreneurship.
Sulabh International Social Service Organization (SISSO) has developed the pondbased arsenic-free water supply system which can be a model for entire Bengal. This comes at a time when deep tube wells with arsenic filters failed to resolve the issue. Quite a sizeable population in Bengal -16 million in rural and 12 million in urban areas -in eight districts are hit by arsenic menace. Arsenic contamination leads to cancer of skin, lungs, gall bladder and other internal organs, and also dise ases like hyperpigmentation and keratosis. Provision of safe drinking water and medical relief along with long-term change in agricultural and irrigation practices are needed to tackle the menace After Madhusudankati, the same model is being repli cated at Mayapur in Nadia and parts of Midnapore and Musrhidabad. SISSO founder Bindeshwar Pathak, the father of India’s biggest hygiene movement, said, “I am inspired by the success of Madhusudankati water project and will replicate the model across the country’s arseniczones. Now, there is a strong demand for such projects from many states.“ Pathak is revered as `god-sent’ to hundreds of Gaighata residents.
Swapan Das of Jayanti village in Gaighata cannot even react on his own plight. Even a minor bout of anger can lead to heart attack. The `arsenic’ he has consumed has incapacitated him for over a year, forcing his two sons -aged 12 and 13 -to hard manual labour -loha bhangar kaaj. But he hopes that his progeny will not have to drink the poison any more.
Professor K J Nath, who is the vice-chancellor of Sulabh International Institute of Environmental Sanitation and Public Health and chairman of the arsenic task force of West Bengal government, said, “Madhusudankati is an eye-opener. This model ensures supply of fully treated and safe water as per WHO standard.“
Nineteen deaths have been reported in the recent times from the villages of Jayanti and Tegharia. “We are drinking the poison helplessly ,“ said Putiram Das, another villager. Water gives life, but here it snatches it as well. Almost the entire Gaighata block is affected.
Shampa Das’ two-storey house at Tegharia is the tallest structure in the village dotted with hutments. But she is scared. “I insisted that we must move out from here. But we have a business here. Even the `dub’ (green coconut) water is not safe. I got it tested and the arsenic level is much greater than the tolerable limit,“ she said.
“The vegetables we grow in the field also have high arsenic content,“ said Prabhat Malakar. The local cooperative, entrusted with daily operation and maintenance of the project, sells potable water 50 paise per litre and distributes a barrel with 20 litres free of cost to each BPL family every alternative day.