Following a recent report tabled in the Lok Sabha stating that West Bengal has the highest number of arsenic-affected people in the country, State Minister of Public Health Engineering (PHE) Subrata Mukherjee told The Hindu that there was “a lot left to be done” by the State government.
“Despite the State government’s efforts to curb the Arsenic menace there is still a lot to be done,” said Mr. Mukherjee. There are 83 blocks in eight districts — Bardhaman, Malda, Hooghly, Howrah, Murshidabad, Nadia, North and South 24 Paraganas — where ground water is affected by arsenic contamination.
According the report tabled in the Lok Sabha by Union Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation Mahendra Singh Tomar, Bengal topped the list with more than 1.04 crore arsenic-affected persons as on March 4, 2017. Bihar comes second with 16.88 lakh persons, with Assam in third spot with 14.48 lakh victims. The total number of arsenic-affected people in the country is about 1.48 crore.
According to the WHO’s guidelines for drinking water quality (2011), the permissible limit of Arsenic in groundwater is .01 mg per litre. However, in India the permissible limit in drinking water has recently been revised from .05 mg per litre to .01 mg per litre. Mr. Mukherjee pointed out that the State government had recently initiated a project in order to provide safe drinking water to more than six lakh people in the arsenic-affected Rajarhat and Haroa block in North 24 Paraganas district and Bhangar II blocks in South 24 Paraganas district.
“The water treatment plant in New Town [on the Eastern fringes of the city] will be used to provide safe drinking water to these areas through pipelines,” the Minister said.
He claimed that the State has been able to provide safe drinking water to “52% of the arsenic-affected areas in Bengal.”
The chairman of the State’s Arsenic Task Force, K.J. Nath, also admitted that progress in setting up water treatment plants has been slow. Speaking to The Hindu he said since the “technology for removal of arsenic is rather new and expensive, the progress has been slow.”
The ruling Trinamool Congress had claimed in its 2016 election manifesto that 91% of the population of arsenic-affected areas in the State have been provided with clean drinking water. The website of the PHE department also claims that arsenic contamination is “getting under control” and Bengal is expected to be “arsenic free” in another couple of years.