The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Drinking water turns dirtier

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) water we drink is not safe, and its contamination count is rising steadily.

The conclusion has been arrived at by health experts on the basis of a recent report, steered by a consumer group and sponsored by the Union ministry of food and consumer affairs.

Placed before the government a few months ago, the findings show 63.66 per cent of CMC water samples, collected from 660 public points in the city, and 87.5 per cent of samples from underground and overhead water tanks of houses to be “faecally contaminated”. This apart, samples from nearly 24.66 per cent of CMC handpumps and 27.5 per cent deep tubewells were found similarly contaminated.

A total of 990 water samples were collected and analysed in the laboratories of the Federation of Consumer Associations, of which 150 were from CMC handpumps, 40 from deep tubewells of house-owners in and around the city and 200 from the underground or overhead tanks of houses.

Health experts feel that faecal contamination continues to rise due to the:

Intermittent water supply system. Distribution pipes are not under positive pressure for 24 hours

Leaks in the distribution network. Faecally contaminated waste water enters drinking-water pipes

Lack of effective and universal disinfection

The apathy and ignorance on the part of the authorities, of course, remains a constant cause for concern. Former All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health (AIIHPH) director K.J. Nath had, in 1985, as a special officer appointed by Calcutta High Court, found 20 per cent of water from the distribution system to be faecally contaminated and 30 per cent of the 500 water samples collected to lack the desired free residual chlorine (more than 0.2 mg per litre).

On the basis of Nath’s report, the government sent several clean-up directives. “The civic authorities have only partly complied with the court’s directive (setting up booster stations), but they hardly take up the cleaning task,” said Nath, now president of the Institution of Public Health Engineers.

“The public works department is not concerned about cleaning and disinfecting the underground and overhead reservoirs and the CMC has not taken effective measures for universal disinfection and maintenance of free residual chlorine,” alleged Nath.

Reacting to the recent findings, mayor Subrata Mukherjee said efforts were on to identify zones where the water contamination may have taken place. “We have stepped up our vigil,” he claimed.

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