GUWAHATI, Sept 2: ‘Health for all’ will continue to remain a distant dream in Assam unless arsenic and fluoride contamination in water, among other problems, is addressed. However, a glimmer of hope is set to be in the eyes of the people of the State at the initiative being taken up under the National Water Quality Sub-Mission (NWQSM).
Arsenic and fluoride contamination in water has been a nagging problem in the State. It is hard to believe that people in as many as 3881 habitations spread over 21 districts in the State have been using arsenic and fluoride contaminated water as part of their food and other purposes, over the years.
According to sources in the State Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department, the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is coming up with 122 schemes under the NWQSM to mitigate arsenic and fluoride contamination in Assam, covering eight of the 21 affected districts. The eight districts, according to the PHE, are – Baksa, Dhemaji, Dhubri, Nalbari, Barpeta, Sonitpur, Jorhat and Karimganj.
The schemes are going to cover 1,439 arsenic and 7 fluoride contaminated habitations in the eight districts. The estimated cost of the schemes scheduled to be implemented in two years is Rs 464.7 crore, including a central share of Rs 335.76 crore. The detailed project reports (DPRs) of the schemes are under process. While mitigating arsenic and fluoride contamination in water in 1,446 (1,439+7) habitations in eight districts, the schemes are set to cover 314 en-route habitations that are not arsenic and fluoride affected. However, Dispur has to bear the additional cost of covering the 314 en-route habitations. The very water to be made free from arsenic and fluoride contamination under the schemes is surface water.
Arsenic and fluoride contamination in Assam leaves very few districts untouched. The worst among the 21 arsenic affected districts in the State is Jorhat with 959 affected habitations, followed by Baksa with 821 habitations, Nalbari with 752 habitations and Barpeta with 458 habitations. There are altogether 3,726 arsenic affected habitations in the State. In fluoride contamination, Dhubri tops the list with 93 affected habitations.
It, however, remains moot: will the schemes mitigate the problem in the eight districts? There is room for such a doubt as Assam received Rs 220.6339 crore from the Centre against the NWQSM for Arsenic and Fluoride-affected districts from March 2017 to July 2018. The State also received Rs 11.57 crore in March 2016 for the commissioning of water purification plans as short-term measures to ensure supply of safe drinking water in rural areas affected with arsenic and fluoride contamination. However, habitations in as many as 21 districts in the State are still supplied with contaminated water.