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GAIGHATA (NORTH 24-PARGANAS): As civic bodies keep "planning" to offer safe drinking water in arsenic-hit areas, a small village in North 24-Parganas has taken the lead and set up a water treatment plant to fight the scourge.

Only 14 km from the Bangldesh border, the remote hamlet of Madhusudankati now produces packaged drinking water, which it sells for only 50 paisa per 1-litre bottle. The demand is soaring as people from neighbouring villages like Bishnupur, Sutia and others in Gaighata block queue up for the arsenic-free water.

With the number of patients suffering from arsenic contamination at the Madhusudankati primary health centre growing by the day, members of the Madhusudankati Samabay Krishi Unnayan Samity took an oath to resolve the crisis. They first sought the help of International Academy of Environment Sanitation & Public Health. Help also came from an unexpected corner, 1001 Frontaines, a French company, which agreed to provide technological support, while Bindheswar Pathak, the head of Sulabh International Social Service Organization, promised to release funds from his organization.

Thus the plant, which is now serving more than a thousand villagers, came into being. It currently draws water from a pond. The water passes through a pipe and is stored in a 5,000-litre reservoir. After treatment, the water is poured in large containers in a room that is connected to the plant. The quality of the treated water is tested by Besu scientists every month.

Sanjoy Ghosh, a member of Madhusudankati Samabay Samiti, said with growing demand, they will have to find other sources of surface water. Previously, the villagers relied solely on groundwater, which was the source of arsenic. Santana Ghosh, a resident of Madhusudankati, was a victim. "I had to undergo prolonged treatment to get rid of the contamination. Now I and my family can drink water without fear," she said.

Tapas Sarkar, a local resident and a veterinary surgeon, felt proud of the water treatment plant. "Ours is the village to show the way and I hope others will follow suit," he said.

Pathak said Sulabh has already assisted two similar projects in South 24-Parganas and Murshidabad. "We want to get involved with more projects across the state. We want to help people attain their right to safe drinking water and sanitation," Pathak said.

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