| Stick-wielding villagers on the rampage at the water treatment plant. Picture by Surajit Roy
Malda, July 2: A Rs 1.5-crore water treatment plant of the public health engineering (PHE) department was damaged today when thousands of people went on the rampage to protest against the non-availability of drinking water.
Officials of the PHE department claimed that around Rs 10 lakh will be needed to repair the plant, set up to provide arsenic free water to Sujapur, Gayeshbari and Bamongram-Mosimpur gram panchayat areas.
The villagers laid siege to the plant in Sujapur, 27km from here, around 10 this morning. The mob wielding sticks and iron bars smashed equipment, windowpanes and furniture. They also confined block development officer Ranjan Das to a room for three hours. Das had come to listen to the grievances, but the crowd wanted to talk to the district magistrate.
Almost at the same time, some of the protesters blocked NH 34, the road linking south and north Bengal, for five hours. The agitation was withdrawn only after the executive engineer of the PHE department, Mrinal Sarkar, arrived at the spot around 3pm and assured the villagers of regular supply of safe drinking water.
The Congress pradhan of the Sujapur gram panchayat, Sadeq Ali, said vast areas in Kaliachak block were arsenic-prone. He recalled that former chief minister Jyoti Basu had inaugurated the plant in 2001.
“But the plant has failed to cater to the needs of the residents of Sujapur. They are being deprived of safe drinking water. Repeated appeals to the higher authorities have gone unheeded. The result was today’s spontaneous outburst,” Ali said.
Hamidur Rahman, a CPM leader of Sujapur echoed Ali: “The government had spent crores of rupees on the plant, but we are being forced to drink poison.”
According to Rahman, the treatment plant supplies water to more than one lakh people residing in Sujapur, Gayeshbari and Bamongram-Mosimpur gram panchayat areas. He alleged that Abdul Hannan, the contractor entrusted with the responsibility of running the plant, was not doing his job properly.
The PHE engineer blamed frequent power cuts for the irregular water supply.
“Today’s vandalism will affect the supply further. We will need at least Rs 10 lakh to repair the equipment. But we will try our best to supply safe drinking water regularly,” Sarkar added.