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You have no respect for human life: NGT tells UP govt over Bagpat water issue

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 7 September 2016, 20:10 IST

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) pulled up the Uttar Pradesh administration on Wednesday for not providing clean water to villages in the Bagpat district.

For more than ten years, drinking water sources in the villages, which are situated near the Hindon River, have been contaminated by the polluted river water.

Hundreds of persons in the area suffer from permanent physical and mental diseases, which they claim is a result of the polluted water. A Bagpat-based NGO had approached the NGT in November 2014 to seek relief.

A study commissioned by the NGT had confirmed that water from most handpumps were contaminated with heavy metals, suspected to have been poured into the river by nearly 45 types of industries in Saharanpur, Shamli and Meerut districts.

Even as the case has dragged on, the UP government had not followed four previous orders by the NGT to provide clean water to these villages through tankers or bottles and to seal the polluted hand-pumps to prevent further damage to life.

Catch had reported how in the absence of these measures, the villages were compelled to drink water from contaminated hand-pumps.

Also read: 70 kms from Capital, Bagpat villagers wait for freedom to drink clean water

Finally, on 29 August the NGT principal bench had ordered the Managing Director of Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam to appear before it on 7 September, along with the District Magistrate (DM) and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Bagpat district.

All officials were present except for the DM, who is on leave and was represented by the Additional DM.

Lack of response

However, there was no clear response from the officials when the NGT quizzed them about measures taken to provide clean water to the villages, seal handpumps, and cure the persons claiming to be affected by polluted water.

The CMO even denied that the diseases were water-borne, or that there was any health crisis in the region, at which NGT expert member Bikram Singh Sajwan retorted, "There are 119 skin diseases reported in one village. How is that possible? It baffles us."

The petitioner pointed out that one water quality study conducted by the state in 2014 was not revealed to the NGT but submitted to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.

The report reportedly found arsenic, a heavy metal, in the water up to 4,000 times the safe limits.

Ordering the report to be placed before it, NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar said: "What can arsenic cause? Did you do take even a single blood sample from any of the patients, including the 119 suffering from skin diseases? Shouldn't you be helping the cause of the people? You have no respect for human life!"

"It is known that the water is contaminated. If persons are known to be drinking it, then it is obvious that they will suffer water-borne diseases," he said, referring to the CMO's denial.

Orders sent out

The NGT bench has ordered that all the polluted handpumps to be completely removed and clean drinking water be supplied to affected villages. It has also ordered the UP government to provide a "complete scientific answer to the cause of the sickness" in the region.

It has also asked the state administration to submit a common affidavit placing all the facts on record. The next date of hearing is 21 October.

Also read: Bagpat villagers wait for clean drinking water, get toilets instead

Speaking to Catch outside the NGT, Prem Assudani, MD of UP Jal Nigam said that they have begun sending water tankers to six villages in Bagpat.

He said that of the remaining 51 villages affected by drinking water contamination, while 21 have been covered by piped water supply, the Nigam has received Rs 40 crore from the state government to supply water to the remaining 30 villages.

In the six villages where tankers are being sent, the Nigam will install solar tubewells by the end of September, Assudani said.

He added that the Nigam used to draw funds from the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP), a scheme partly funded by the central government, but these funds were falling short, so they have decided to draw money from the state coffers.

"Our emphasis is on all quality-affected villages to be covered first," Assudani said.

Catch had written about how in one Bagpat village affected by the drinking water crisis, the NRDWP projects were languishing even as the funds were available to build toilets under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

Both the projects come under the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. Under the NDA government, the ministry has prioritised the flagship Swachh Bharat programme over the drinking water scheme.

Also read: Drought: Centre showers funds on Swachh Bharat, starves drinking water

First published: 7 September 2016, 20:10 IST
Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.