The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Time and funds block plugging of pipe leaks

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) authorities were aware of the contamination in filtered water supplies in several city wards before the onset of summer but could do nothing to rectify it because of “lack of time and funds”. This inaction has resulted in a gastro-enteritis outbreak in the city. The number of admissions to the Infectious Diseases (ID) Hospital shot up to 450 on Saturday afternoon.

Doctors at the hospital re-confirmed that the majority of the patients had been infected after they consumed contaminated water. The number of admissions during the day was 110, while around 90 patients were discharged. The authorities are likely to open an extra ward to tackle the rush of patients.

Chief secretary Ashok Gupta has directed health secretary K.K. Bagchi to take all steps to contain the outbreak of enteric disease. Bagchi visited the ID Hospital in Beleghata to review the arrangements. “The situation is almost under control. So far, those who have been admitted have recovered. Though the primary reason for the infections is impure water, cut fruits, lassi and sherbet at roadside stalls are also to blame,” Bagchi said.

Most of the patients were from the slums in Rajabazar, Narkeldanga and Beniapukur. “All had symptoms of acute gastro-enteritis and dehydration,” said doctor-on-duty Subrata Adhikary. “About 20 per cent of the cases are serious and patients are taking at least 36 hours to recover.” Intravenous saline and ORS solutions are being administered along with antibiotics.

CMC officials have admitted that the century-old underground pipelines in several wards had developed leaks. “The entire network has to be replaced to prevent this. There is no scope for patchwork repairs,” said CMC chief engineer (water supply) Dibyendu Roy Chowdhury. “A complete overhaul requires both time and funds. We are trying to repair the existing leaks in the pipelines as soon as we can.’’

Roy Chowdhury added that water samples from ward nos. 29, 59 and 60 had recently been tested in the civic laboratory and were found to be substandard. “The water appeared to have become contaminated due to leaks in the underground pipeline.”

The civic body has started taking precautionary steps to contain the spread of enteric diseases. “Bleaching powder is being sprayed in the affected areas and people are being told to drink boiled water,” he said.

The pollution control board will also conduct another round of tests shortly. “We collect samples from overhead tanks, roadside taps and reservoirs. We will resume the tests and submit our findings to the CMC,” said board member-secretary S.K. Sarkar.

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