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Not a drop to drink
- Hard water poses health risk, raises domestic bill

Calcutta’s water is turning saline, forcing many parts of the city to depend on bottled water to dilute the mineral monster.

There is not a drop to drink in Santoshpur, for instance, which has been left with only saline water in its underground pool (see chart) in the wake of a real estate boom. In some other crowded areas, tubewells are being sunk deeper than 700 feet to find fresh water.

“The vast majority of Calcuttans — nearly three-fourth of the city’s residents depend on groundwater — drink either saline or contaminated water,” said S.P. Sinha Roy, a former member of the ground water board.

Depletion of groundwater is the primary cause of the problem. Saline water implies increase in the mineral content of water. The first thing it does is erode metal surfaces, including taps, pipes and geysers. Then there are the health risks of long-term exposure to saline water.

“Saline water can cause gastric aches and indigestion. It harms the skin, causing dryness and aggravating allergy. Hair becomes rough. When the lead content is high, it impedes growth in children,” said dermatologist Sachin Varma, a resident of Hiland Park, high on the saline list.

The other implication is the rise in household budget for residents in the saline belt. “We (a family of four) shifted to the Santoshpur end of the EM Bypass from Kalighat last winter. On an average we spend Rs 4,000 a month more on buying water and replacing clogged pipes,” said Dipak Sengupta, a bank employee.

Some housing estates here have decided not to go soft on hard water. “Water drawn through deep tubewells is not fit for consumption. Part of the CMC water is processed in a mineral water plant to provide 20-litre jars to the residents. We also have an iron removal plant where hard water from the boring well is converted into soft water,” said Manmohan Purohit, the estate manager of the Udita complex in Survey Park, Santoshpur.

Experts warn that things will only get worse in a hurry. “The entire city could end up with saline water in a few years,” said an official of the water board.

Pradip Sikdar, an environment management expert, warned of “heavy-metal contamination” in saline belts. “During a series of studies, samples collected from nearly 150 points were found to contain copper, chromium, lead, aluminium and arsenic.”

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