Policymakers and experts on Tuesday expressed concern over contamination of surface water in rural areas of the West Bengal and emphasised on popularising cost-effective water purification projects to get rid of the problem and provide safe drinking water to the masses.
The issue was discussed at a day-long seminar "Sanitary Protection & up-gradation of traditional surface water resources in rural West Bengal for producing suitable safe water for drinking & cooking purposes" organised here by non-governmental organisation Sulabh International. West Bengal minister for Panchayat and Rural Development Subrata Mukherjee inaugurated the seminar.
The state's Power and Non-Conventional energy minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, founder of Sulabh International Bindeshwar Pathak, Gourishankar Ghosh, former chief of Water & Sanitation-UNICEF, former Director of Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission K J Nath and D N Guha Mazumdar, member of the West Bengal Taskforce on arsenic water were present. Minister Subrata Mukherjee said that the state government was deeply concerned with the problem of contaminated groundwater in many parts of the state and has initiated steps to get rid of it.
Pathak, who was recently awarded with Japan's prestigious 'Nikkei Asia Prize for Culture and Community' for his work in tackling poor hygiene and discrimination, said that the United Nations has declared that access to safe water is a basic human right but unfortunately in India a large number of people are still exposed to the risk of drinking contaminated water. He highlighted that Sulabh has initiated water projects at Madhusudankati and Iskcon-Haridaspur in North 24 Pargana District, Murshidabad in Murshidabad District, Mayapur in Nadia district and Suvasgram in South 24 Pargana district to provide safe drinking water to masses. Another new project will be launched at Shantiniketan on Wednesday, he added.
He said the Sulabh in collaboration with 1001 Fontaines of France introduced "Sulabh Jal" project through which contaminated water of pond and river are converted into safe drinking water. The project was introduced three years ago in the three districts of Bengal--North 24 Pargana, Murshidabad and Nadia. Currently, villagers are operating the plants with support and technical assistance provided by Sulabh International, he added.
Talking about the project to convert contaminated surface water into potable water at Madhusudan Kanti village on the Indo-Bangladesh border in North 24 Pargana of West Bengal, Pathak said the plant is producing 8000 litres of safe drinking water daily and giving them at a low cost of 50 paise per litre to masses. The cases of arsenic-related diseases have dropped within three years in villages of North 24 Parganas district following a successful run of the water purification plant, he added.
Besides, in West Bengal, Sulabh has also launched such low-cost water purification project in Darbhanga district of Bihar and plans to expand it to some other areas of Bihar too. Various studies including the one by Central Water Commission has noted that water in almost 40 per cent of the districts of Bihar and West Bengal contain arsenic above permissible limits. Pathak urged the West Bengal Rural Development and Panchayat minister to help spread the water purification project in other areas of the state.
In his address, K J Nath highlighted the magnitude of the contaminated groundwater in West Bengal. He said 11 districts of the West Bengal are affected with the problem of arsenic water putting a total of 1.79 crores rural and 1.41 crore urban population to risk. Likewise, seven districts are affected by the problem of the prevalence of fluoride in the surface water of West Bengal, he added.
(With inputs from agencies.)