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Levy on filtered water in arsenic zones

Purbasthali, March 9: People in the arsenic-affected areas of rural Bengal will have to pay a tax for filtered water, the government said today.

Inaugurating two waterworks at Champahati and Sonarudra here, public health engineering minister Goutam Deb said the families availing the filtered water from the new projects will have to pay Rs 30 every month. They will also have to make a one-time payment of Rs 2,000.

The area under Purbasthali blocks I and II is Burdwan’s only arsenic-affected zone.

“We have to charge this nominal amount to the villagers for the facility because the government requires a huge amount to ensure proper maintenance of the projects. We took the decision knowing that the overall financial condition of the people in rural areas has improved considerably. If they (the rural people) can afford to keep TV sets and telephones at home, I don’t think it will be much of a problem to pay the nominal amount for the filtered water,” Deb said.

The minister added that a similar levy will be imposed on people in other arsenic-prone zones in the state as well.

The two waterworks here will benefit over 68,000 residents of Champahati and Sonarudra.

Concerned over reports of deaths of 11 people by arsenic contamination last year, the government undertook the two water supply projects.

“We completed the two projects in less than 18 months,” Deb said at the programme. The government is taking measures to ensure that people living in every arsenic-affected area in Bengal are provided with arsenic-free drinking water, he added.

Thousands of residents in Purbasthali blocks I and II, covering vast areas of Champahati, Sonarudra, Samudragarh and Nadanghat, had suffered acute water problems in the past few years. The local administration had sealed most of the tube-wells in the area once the arsenic contamination was detected. The residents complained they had to walk six to eight miles to fetch drinking water.

Deb said each of the projects have a capacity to provide 40 litres of water per head per day. The government has spent about Rs 2 crore on the twin projects, he added.

The waterworks for the residents of Samudragarh was completed a year ago, said Deb. “But, the project could not be thrown open to people because of problems in getting power.”

The minister did not let go an opportunity to slam the Centre. “They were supposed to provide funds to set up the filtered-water supply projects in the arsenic prone areas, but did not. The entire responsibility is being shouldered by the state. But the progress will be slow because of the cash crunch,” he said.

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