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Glare on Garhwa fluorosis - NHRC notice gives state six weeks to reply

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By PHEROZE L. VINCENT
  • Published 26.02.12
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New Delhi, Feb. 25: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has asked the Jharkhand government for an action-taken report on fluorosis in Garhwa district following complaints from villagers about the state’s failure in providing piped water supply and medicines.

The notice, sent on February 14, was a result of NHRC’s own investigation report, which said that local residents complained about not getting medicines regularly and the state’s water tankers — an ad hoc measure till piped water was brought — stopped after merely a couple of days.

The report, accessed by The Telegraph, pointed out that the authorities learnt about the presence of high fluoride levels in drinking water in the affected villages about 10 years ago but “no sincere efforts were made to provide safe drinking water to villagers”.

It added: “Initially, they fitted water filters to the bore wells but there was no follow-up to see whether they are properly functioning or not.”

The state has six weeks to reply from the date of receiving the NHRC notice on Garhwa’s continuing battle with fluorosis, an incurable disease, caused by a high presence of fluoride in groundwater, which cripples the body by affecting joints and bones.

But, state principal secretary for drinking water and sanitation Sudhir Prasad claimed he had not received the NHRC’s notice yet.

The Union ministry of drinking water and sanitation, which had also sent an expert panel to the district in September last year, noted that investments made to control fluorosis were minimal.

In August 2011, the NHRC had sent a notice to the state after reports that 70 families in Pratappur village of Garhwa suffered from fluorosis. The level of fluoride in drinking water there was 3.5 parts per million (ppm), way above WHO’s 1 ppm limit for the element.

The state drinking water and sanitation department then sent two teams to the district, which found that a project to supply piped water from River Koel is incomplete. The project has cost Rs. 1.9 crore since it was started in 2006. The government blamed the delay on opposition from local residents, who wanted the project to be extended to neighbouring areas.

The state, in an action-taken report (ATR) in September, promised, among various other measures, to provide piped water to Pratappur as well as supply preventives like vitamin C, D and calcium tablets.

But, a report of the Union ministry criticised the state’s ATR to the commission, saying it did not reveal that Jharkhand had “adequate expertise, knowledge and experience” to address issues on providing safe drinking water to the community.

“The state document does not provide well-defined goals nor objectives with clarity of vision,” added the ministry’s report in October.

The Union ministry report chalked out a pilot strategy for Garhwa involving both health and drinking water departments, which included staffing, developing laboratories, sensitisation of medical staff and periodic reviews. The report was sent to the state.

Prasad refused to dwell on the state’s response in Garhwa, but added: “We have spent Rs 85 lakh on schemes to prevent fluorosis and improve water supply for Pratappur. We have also set up 120 projects — 30 in Garhwa and 90 in Palamau.”