Safe Drinking Water

Sulav Sauchalaya, otherwise well known for its pioneering work in launching a movement for public toilets, claimed a major breakthrough in low-cost drinking water in severely ‘‘arsenic hit’’ villages in North 24 Parganas, Nadia and Murshidabad districts of West Bengal. The envisaged program though not new, but cannot be useful without incorporation of newer S&T which will keep the water free from arsenic, fluoride, pesticide residues etc. The claimed new technology developed by Sulav, as narrated by its founder Mr Bindeswar Pathak, can hardly be accepted as truth in the absence of details of S&T applied in the process. So far the traditional Indian culture of using tank and river water was wise. But this needs some improvement by the use of modern S&T because newer poisons like Arsenic, fluoride, pesticide residues etc make the flood waters unusable for drinking nor for cooking. In earlier centuries river, lake, tank waters which remained uncontaminated by the newer poisons were used. But often they were microbial contaminated that caused cholera, typhoid, amebiosis etc. With the progress of the medical sciences such diseases are now controlled.

But newer poisons like arsenic, fluoride etc are causing unprecedented epidemic diseases, because arsenic, fluoride etc which can neither be 'killed', nor contained and water freed from them. To provide bacteria safe water to the people millions of tube wells have been sunk which though lessened bacterial diseases but causing poison revolutions with untreated ground water borne arsenic and fluoride diseases which are more difficult to contain. Indian social and religious practices in earlier centuries developed the wise beautiful culture of tank digging and reclaiming and maintaining water tank clean and safe which are now utterly neglected. Ground water is now being mined by households, villages, municipalities, farmers and multinational companies. Packaged drinking water and soft-drinks are now big business. They are mainly responsible for arsenic poisoning.

The traditional water harvesting technologies need be combined with modern S&T. It may not be out of place to mention here that another modern science based technology does exist and which is practised in some places in Europe and USA, which is called 'In Situ or Subterranean Remediation' in which air or oxygen is injected into the subsurface aquifer which leaves the arsenic tied to the aquifer sediments containing iron etc and arsenic free water can be pumped out. But development of this technology in Indo-Gangetic alluvium needs some R&D along with liberal funding and above all the right political will which is lacking here in India now. Here best Scientists & Engineers are now employed for developing Missiles, and exploration of planet Mars and building nuclear reactors etc but providing safe drinking water is not really on the agenda of governments—state and central. And right to water is threatened if all-out privatization drive by the Modi government succeeds. In that event people will have no option but to drink arsenic and flouride contaminated water and suffer health hazards that have no proper medication till date.

Arsenic menace is a serious health threat to a large number of people in eastern India and adjoining Bangladesh. In truth some areas in West Bengal, including the much-hyped New Town—are floating on arsenic. Surface water, rather running water is the best source of safe drinking water, if it is supplied after simple purification. What is required is political will and a little bit of reasonable investment in health and awareness campaign. But the policy of state governments in India is to supress the danger of arsenic and fluoride contamination. The erstwhile CPM-regime in Bengal was notorious in suppressing arsenic-poisoning related facts. The advocates of ‘scientific socialism’ were totally unscientific in their outlook when it was the question of tackling arsenic poisoning.

Vol. 47, No. 37, Mar 22 - 28, 2015