The Telegraph
Thursday , January 24 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dutch students hint at graft in arsenic mitigation fight
- Lack of awareness & improper installation of equipment cited as problems in ensuring safe drinking water

Two students from the Netherlands have blamed lack of awareness about arsenic mitigation techniques, faulty installation, absence of maintenance and corruption by contractors for the state’s failure to ensure safe drinking water to residents.

Final-year civil engineering students from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Merin Janssen and Andrew Wong, spent the past two months in Bihar, assessing the success and failure of various arsenic mitigation techniques in place.

At present, ground and surface water, soil and even food crops in 17 of the state’s 38 districts are reported to be contaminated with arsenic. The Dutch students went around Bhagalpur, Bhojpur, Buxar and Vaishali districts and Maner in Patna for their internship project, “Dealing with arsenic in rural Bihar”.

Janssen and Wong assessed water purification equipment, hand pumps and water supply lines installed by the public health engineering department (PHED), Central Ground Water Board, UKaid (for Department for International Development in UK) and Unicef at the places they visited. They inferred most of the equipment are defunct because of lack of maintenance. Lack of awareness about water purification and safe water use are also obstacles in allowing beneficiaries to reap the benefits of the mitigation techniques. They also hinted at corruption on part of companies that installed the equipment.

Started on November 22 last year, the duo’s project came to an end on Wednesday. They conducted their project with the support of Department of Environment and Water Management, AN College and will leave Patna on Thursday.

“Most water purification equipment installed by the different agencies is defunct because of various reasons, including improper installation and lack of maintenance. We think a huge sum of money has been wasted in installing the equipment as the authorities are ignorant of the maintenance,” said Janssen.

“There must be corruption in the installation of the equipment such as using bad material that do not last long. Also, we found that PHED hand pumps, which are marked as 500ft, were only 200ft deep. The contractors must have pocketed the rest of the money,” Wong said.

He added that considering the spread of arsenic in Bihar, the number of existing purification plants was not sufficient. “Awareness about presence of arsenic in the water and its ill-effects are low here for which the people are not able to identify whether the water is contaminated or not. Instead of taking responsibility, the authorities like PHED expect the uneducated villagers to look after the maintenance of the technical water purifying equipment,” he said.

Ashok Ghosh, professor in charge, environment and water management department, AN College, said: “There is no lack of arsenic mitigation techniques in Bihar nor the requisite funds but the disturbing issue is the maintenance of the equipment. It has been largely observed that arsenic mitigation equipment become nobody’s child after installation.”