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Water plant lag in arsenic belt

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Purbasthali, Jan. 30: A Rs 40-crore government scheme to provide purified drinking water to an arsenic-prone zone in Burdwan has been held up for the past six months because of delay in getting power connection.

Officials of the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (WBSEDCL) said a portion of the high-tension power line would have to be laid under a stretch of railway tracks near the water-treatment plant at Purbasthali but the railways was yet to give permission.

WBSEDCL requires to lay the cable under the tracks between two stations on the Bandel-Katwa section to supply power to the plant from a 132KV substation.

The project was started by the public health engineering (PHE) department in 2008. Once completed, the plant will supply arsenic-free water to around 1.75 lakh people in 100 villages in Kalna, where the arsenic level in underground water is high. Purbasthali is under Kalna subdivision.

“Work on the water-treatment plant has been completed. We have also laid the pipeline and built four water reservoirs,” said Arabinda Sahu, the executive engineer (mechanical) of PHE, Burdwan. “But we have not been able to supply water to the people as we are yet to get electricity connection,” he added.

Sahu said WBSEDCL had given a temporary connection earlier this month but it was not enough to run the plant, which has a capacity to purify 10.8 million litres a day. He said the PHE department had applied for power connection in early 2009 and had paid Rs 95 lakh to WBSEDCL.

PHE officials said water would be fetched from the Bhagirathi river, 700 metres from the plant, and supplied to the villages after purification.

Anindya Kishore Manna, the WBSEDCL divisional engineer of Kalna, said the power utility had applied to the Howrah divisional railway manager for clearance but was yet to get the permission. “We had submitted necessary documents and project details to the railways but nothing has been done yet,” Manna said.

Howrah divisional railway manager P.S. Mandal, however, said he had already given the clearance. “As far as I can recall, I had given the clearance. I don’t know why the decision had not been communicated to WBSEDCL. I will look into the matter,” Mandal said.

Around 100 villages in and around Purbasthali’s Kamalnagar, where the plant has come up, are dependent on underground water.

“We use underground water for cooking, washing and bathing. But because of the presence of arsenic in the water, we suffer from skin problems,” said Dwarkanath Thakur, 53, a marginal farmer.

Krishnendu Haldar, the medical officer of Purbasthali block II, said villagers frequently came to the local health centre with symptoms of arsenic poisoning.

“They suffer from rashes, swellings, headache, drowsiness and discolouration of the skin and nails. We often refer such cases of arsenic poisoning to Calcutta’s SSKM and NRS. About 200 villagers from Purbasthali are now receiving treatment at the two hospitals,” Haldar said.

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