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Posted at: Jul 31, 2017, 12:58 AM; last updated: Jul 31, 2017, 12:58 AM (IST)

Back to basics

Clean drinking water remains an issue
Back to basics

POLITICIANS who keep squabbling over the SYL Canal, pitting farmers of one state against the other, pay least attention to the kind of water people they represent drink. A Central report — the National Health Profile 2017 — has highlighted how large sections of Punjabis and Haryanvis consume chemical-laden water. According to the data released by the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, groundwater in 214 villages in Punjab has an arsenic content beyond the permissible limit, while 286 villages have excess fluoride in water. In Haryana 161 habitations consume water with a high quantity of fluoride. The worst arsenic affected are the districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran, Ropar and Ferozepur, while Patiala, Sangrur, Fatehgarh, Fazilka, Mohali and Mansa have excessive fluoride levels in water. In Haryana the problem is particularly serious in Rewari, Jind, Palwal, Gurugram, Mahendragarh and Sirsa. 

Regardless of the proven damage to human and soil health, the use of fertilisers and pesticides has not declined in the two Green Revolution beneficiary states. Almost all water resources — groundwater, canals and rivers — have been polluted by the continuous discharge of untreated industrial and municipal waste. Yet there has been no suo motu judicial or political intervention. Baba Seechewal has set an example of community mobilisation for cleaning up canals but unfortunately his model has not been replicated elsewhere.   

The callous neglect of as basic a necessity as potable water is pervasive but hardly surprising. If despite the water table sinking to precarious lows, paddy cultivation can continue, what transformative action can one expect on having clean water? It is known that the consumption of contaminated water has a bearing on human and cattle health, which in turn could ruin household finances, and set back an entire state’s economy. Yet, there has been no sign of any concerted movement to set things right. The emergence of a cancer belt has provoked little action. An empty treasury is no excuse here. Priorities need to change from having five-star hospitals to preventive health. The question is not just about the quality of water; it is also about the quality of political leadership.

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