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Sunday, August 26, 2012

‘Disaster Science and Management’ by Tushar Bhattacharya

The devil water
"When the first deep tube-well for drinking purpose was bored in the
24 Parganas district (what is now North 24 Parganas) in 1962, the
villagers protested, 'It's the devil water coming.' The scientific
communities laughed at their stupidity, but later on discovered that
the groundwater in the district was contaminated with arsenic. Arsenic
is a heavy toxic material. It gets deposited in nails, hair, urine and
skin. Medical records show that people affected by continuous and
protracted drinking of the arsenic contaminated water suffer from skin
irruption, lesions, swelling of palms and soles, pigmentation and
liver disorders. The first case of arsenic contamination was detected
in the School of Tropical Medicine, Kolkata in 1983. The initial
response from the State of West Bengal was that of denial of the
problem, blaming those, who were trying to bring the issue into public
domain as 'agents of mineral water.''
"West Bengal, in the decade of the 80s of the last century, recorded
the highest agricultural growth among all the states of the country.
Single cropped areas were transformed into multiple cropped. New crops
introduced were water intensive, dependent on groundwater. In the
process, the overexploitation of groundwater has been the prime reason
of arsenic in groundwater. The political party in power attributed
this agriculture growth to the land reforms in the state. Land reform
was their agenda for building a mass electoral base in rural Bengal.
Possibly, this was the reason for denial by the state power. The first
official reaction from the state was from the Chief Minister of West
Bengal after 14 long years of detecting the first case of arsenic
poisoning. According to The Statesman of February 6, 1997, the West
Bengal Chief Minister admitted that about 4.5 million people of the
state spread over 8 districts were exposed to arsenic poisoning and
200,000 people were suffering from arsenic induced diseases."
(p. 97, 'Disaster Science and Management' by Tushar Bhattacharya – TMH)

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