Safe drinking water a distant dream for people in Bhopal

Shashikant Trivedi, Business Standard, November 20, 2007
Bhopal – Around 25,000 families, settled near the toxic solar evaporation pond of the closed factory of the erstwhile Union Carbide India Ltd after the worst-ever industrial disaster in 1984, are hoping against hope to get safe drinking water.
Following a Supreme Court order through a project called the ‘Kola augmentation scheme’, Rs 14.81 crore has been sanctioned by the Madhya Pradesh government under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission to arrange safe drinking water for gas victims. But the project has not been tagged ‘for gas victims only’.
NGOs say they have won the battle they had been fighting for the last seven years (the issue was raised in 2000), whereas the other authorities in the Bhopal Gas Relief and Rehabilitation Department and Bhopal Municipal Corporation say the project will also supply water for non-gas victims.
“These families were settled there after the gas disaster, so the project can’t be only for them. The project will supply water also for people not affected by the gas disaster,” KK Dubey, a senior official in the Bhopal gas relief and rehabilitation department, told Business Standard.
If authorities are to be believed, the project is slated to be completed within 18 months from now. But the Bhopal Gas Relief Department and Bhopal Municipal Corporation have yet to share documents, papers and progress reports of the project.
The Bhopal Municipal Corporation says the project will start soon while the Bhopal Gas Relief and Rehabilitation Department has restricted its responsibilities to a nodal agency. It is not responsible to assure as to when the waters of Kolar dam will reach the localities. “We are working as nodal agency. A coordination committee was organised during September and we had demanded a chart on the progress of the project from the Bhopal Municipal Corporation. They (BMC) had assured us to submit it within 45 days,” said Dubey.
However, Nikunj Shrivastava, commissioner, BMC, told Business Standard: “The work on the project has begun and it would be completed within 18 months from now.”
As a make-shift arrangement, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, on demands from three NGOs, have placed 96 water storage tanks to ensure safe water for the localities. However, residents have a different story to tell. Resident of Shiv Nagar, New Arif Nagar, Annu Nagar, Nawab Colony, Blue Moon Colony, Sunder Nagar, Timber Market, Ram Nagar, Chandwari localities complained of stomachache and skin rashes after consuming the contaminated water.
“They (Bhopal Municipal Corporation) are supposed to refill these tanks on daily basis,” said Rachna Dhingra, an activist of Bhopal Group for Information and Action. The residents of Chandwari and Shiv Nagar localities alleged that BMC workers did not refill them on everyday basis. “They skip refilling the storage tanks on government holidays and Sundays. They also refill contaminated water from the nearby tube-well,” said Dinesh Sahu of Shiv Shakti Nagar locality who is on medication for upset stomach.
Residents of Jaypee Nagar, Kanchi Chhola, and Arif Nagar have also reported ground water contamination.
NGOs have alleged that various government studies on contamination of water conducted during 1990 and 2003-04 reveal that the ground water of the localities contains lethal chemicals including napthol, lindane, manganese, endosulfan, methoxychlor, aldrin, dialdrin, temlik etc., but even the state pollution control board is not serious on chemical tests and sampling.
“Sometimes their (MPPCB) report says the water is contaminated and after a few months the report says ND (not detected),” alleged Dhingra. But the MP Pollution Control Board explains the reason.
“It depends upon the hydro geography of the area. It is possible that water sample from the same area may test positive on one particular day while it may test negative after sometime and again positive after some time,” SP Gautam, chairman, pollution control board told Business Standard.
Government authorities and non-government organisations have been at loggerheads for the last several years on various issues — gas disaster, number of gas victims, water contamination, removal of toxic wastes —nevertheless the suffering of residents continues.

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