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For that clean drop...

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  18 July 2017 12:00 AM GMT

N ow that the current wave of floods is letting up somewhat, the problem of clean drinking water for people in flood-devastated areas and relief camps is coming to the fore. With wells and handpumps not safe to be used at present, it is hardly surprising that lakhs of people are thirsting for that clean drop. In a State visited by this annual curse, the powers-be in Dispur are yet to formulate effective action plans to supply safe drinking water during tural calamities. In most relief camps, inmates are clamouring for water along with food rations. While tubewells are being sunk in such camps and water tankers sent, there are complaints that camps in remote areas are not being properly served. So where will their inmates access drinking water in this hot season, apart from other people sheltering in high areas? The dangers of drinking raw, untreated rivers from swollen rivers and ponds with thousands of rotting carcasses of drowned animals — is too well known to bear repetition. Water-borne diseases like cholera and gastroenteritis can be better prevented only if people get to avoid drinking contamited water in the first place. But supply of safe drinking water has been reduced to such a sick joke by successive governments in Assam, that leave alone often flood-hit rural areas, the situation is alarming even in large parts of capital city Guwahati in other times of the year. This has come out in a research conducted under Assam Engineering College that made media headlines recently. The study found very high levels of untreated or less treated arsenic and lead in the drinking water supplied by six water treatment plants in Guwahati — 3 plants of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) in Panbazar, Satpukhuri and Kamakhya, 2 plants of Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) in Panbazar and Jalukbari and one plant of Assam Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Board in Zoo Road area. Water samples of untreated and treated wastewater-laden Brahmaputra were alysed for contamints like arsenic, fluoride, chloride, lead, iron and other chemical parameters, apart from harmful bacteria and turbidity. All the six plants fared poorly in terms of arsenic, chloride and sulphate removal, while showing mixed results in case of other contamints.
Clearly, water purification even in core areas of Guwahati city leaves much to be desired. This is a serious shortcoming, even as the city awaits the four much delayed water supply projects funded by Japan Intertiol Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Asian Development Fund (ADB). The water from Brahmaputra will have to be effectively treated first, before it is piped to households. If this is the scene in the capital city, the situation can be imagined in places far off from Dispur. The thrust of PHED schemes in other parts of the State is to access groundwater through hand-pumps and ring wells, but what about districts known to have high arsenic levels in groundwater like Jorhat, Bagsa, lbari and Barpeta, or high fluoride contamition like Dhubri, Udalguri and lbari? The PHED claims 6,191 out of its 8,009 drinking water supply schemes across the State are ‘fully functiol’, but the ground reality does not support this tall claim. Over the decades, thousands of crores of Central funds have been given to this department; its contractors are supposed to have laid a dense network of water pipes criss-crossing the State and installed large numbers of water treatment plants. But less than 10 percent people of the State, and of Guwahati less than 30 percent of its denizens, have benefited of these schemes. Under the 15-year Congress rule in this State, the Public Health Engineering Department was a cesspool of corruption, a miserable non-performer. By all accounts, the incoming BJP-led coalition government is having a hard time getting this department do some meaningful work for a change. Reportedly, PHED could submit to the Centre a proposal for 1,438 habitations only last month, even as it has begun work on 500 habitations since last year. But this is one department that needs to pull up its socks fast, particularly during tural calamities like floods. It is learnt that around one-third of its costly mobile water purification plants are in various states of disrepair or outright defunct. Because of this tardiness, flood-ravaged Lakhimpur district has had to bear the brunt this time, as replacements could not be rushed there fast to provide drinking water to flood-hit residents. It is high time the State government makes an inventory of such costly equipment lying uselessly in PHED store, root out anomalies and hold those responsible to account.

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