Silent killer arsenic slowly poisoning crores of people in West Bengal as successive govts fail to address issue -Atonu Choudhurri
Gaighata (North 24 Parganas): West Bengal accounts for 1.04 crore out of India’s 1.48 crore population harmed by arsenic. At present, 20 percent of the state’s population is vulnerable to arsenic-related ailments like skin cancer, and heart and lung diseases. Out of 12 affected districts in West Bengal, the most seriously affected areas are in North 24-Parganas (21 blocks), South 24-Parganas (12 blocks), Nadia (17 blocks), Hooghly (21 blocks), Malda (9 blocks), Burdwan (8 blocks), Howrah (7 blocks) and Murshidabad (23 blocks).
After taking into consideration the severity of the issue, the Centre — with the recommendation of NITI Aayog — provided states a one-time assistance of an amount of Rs 800 crore in March 2016. This 100 percent grant by the Government of India sought to provide 8-10 litres per capita per day of safe drinking water in habitations affected by arsenic and fluoride for drinking and cooking purposes, as short term measures through Community Water Purification Plants (CWPPs).
There is no such plant in East Bishnupur of Gaighata block, where two decades of people drinking arsenic-loaded water drawn from tubewells and other sources has led to almost every villager here suffering from arsenic-related ailments. “I have seen my father, mother, two cousins and four other relatives die a slow and painful death from arsenic-related illness,” said a pale and emaciated Jaganabhandhu Mondal, who looks far older than his age (51).
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