The Telegraph
Wednesday , September 26 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal’s long walk for water

Calcutta, Sept. 25: At least 53 lakh families in Bengal have to walk half a kilometre or more for drinking water, according to provisional census data.

The figure, which translates into 27 per cent of the households surveyed in the state, is far higher than the national average of 18 per cent.

The grim statistics on the most basic of necessities comes at a time the Mamata Banerjee government is chasing the goal of water for all in eight years.

The provisional census data, covering over 2 crore households in Bengal, show that around 1.22 crore do not have drinking water on the premises. Of the 1.22 crore, people in over 53 lakh households have to travel half a kilometre or more to access drinking water.

“This is a major concern area, which needs the urgent attention of the state government. Basic amenities such as access to drinking water help in determining the quality of life of the population in general. They have far-reaching implications on people’s health and mortality,” said population and development analyst Devendra Kothari, a member of the Centre’s Rajiv Gandhi Population Mission.

Kothari said on the sidelines of a programme organised by Unicef in association with the census directorate of Bengal this afternoon that the number of Bengal households having access to drinking water was much less than the national average.

According to the census, 61 per cent of Bengal households don’t have drinking water facilities on their premises, against the national average of 53 per cent.

Dipak Ghosh, the director of census operations in Bengal, said 12 of the 19 districts had more than 25 per cent households with drinking water sources at least half a kilometre away. Purulia (50.5 per cent), South 24-Parganas (42.2 per cent), East Midnapore (41.1 per cent) and Bankura (37.9 per cent) are worst-placed in terms of access to drinking water.

Since May last year, public health engineering (PHE) minister Subrata Mukherjee has started several water pipeline projects in most of these districts, but he said “a lot more” remained to be done.

Mukherjee said the Rs 200-crore pipeline project for every block in Purulia and the Rs 1,100-crore pipeline scheme in Bankura were “just the beginning”. “Within the five-year term of the government (ending 2016), we will do enough to ensure that every household has direct access to drinking water by 2020. We are arranging for funding for more drinking water projects,” Mukherjee said this evening.

“We should be able to do enough so that the data in Census 2021 show Bengal in a much better light in this respect.”

Blaming the erstwhile Left Front government for doing “nothing” in 34 years to improve basic amenities, Mukherjee said his administration was aware of the problems and the challenges they posed.

Another headache for the PHE department is defecation in the open. In the state, 39 per cent of the households do not have access to latrines.

“Roughly a third of the state’s population defecates in the open. The state government’s target of ending this menace by 2015 is not likely to be achieved,” Kothari said.

Mukherjee said the state would try to get as close to the target as possible.