New Delhi, Aug. 13: The Union cabinet today cleared an “international centre for drinking water quality” in Calcutta that will conduct research and training and advise the Centre, states and South Asian neighbours on water-related issues.
Senior bureaucrats said this would be the first international-level centre to be set up in Bengal in recent times. “I cannot even recall a national-level centre coming up in Bengal in the recent past,” said an official.
The Centre will provide Rs 174 crore to set up the institute, for which the state government has earmarked 8.72 acres at Joka, a central government media release said.
The institution will be tasked with research on drinking water technologies, health impacts of water contaminants — with special focus on arsenic and fluoride — and the chemistry of sediments.
It will also promote doctoral and post-doctoral research programmes to generate expertise for the drinking water sector.
“Calcutta is unquestionably the most appropriate site for such an institution,” said Gopinath Balakrish Nair, director of the Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute, Gurgaon, who has spent several years studying cholera germs in the Gangetic delta region.
“The Gangetic delta region is the homeland of cholera — it has the right kind of ecology to allow rapid multiplication and evolution of the cholera bacteria,” Nair, who is not connected to the project, told The Telegraph.
Scientists say that vast tracts of Bengal, the rest of eastern India, and Bangladesh also have unacceptably high levels of arsenic in their groundwater. An estimated four million people are exposed to excess arsenic in Bengal and six other states.
More than 19 states have excess fluoride in their groundwater, and health experts say about 10 million Indians are exposed to excess fluoride.
The Centre estimates that more than 50 million people, almost all of them living in rural habitations, lacked routine access to safe drinking water in April 2012. The new institution will focus on these habitations.
While the centre will focus on rural areas, its activities will also cover urban drinking water issues.
Although India’s cities and towns have municipal water supply lines, microbial contamination routinely leads to outbreaks of water-borne diseases, such as rotavirus infections among young children and hepatitis A or hepatitis E even among adults.
The Calcutta institution will also be expected to provide information on drinking water-related issues to other South Asian countries and help them build their own capacities to address them.