Arsenic Poisoning in West Bengal : Treatment Plant

FATE OF THREE CRORE RUPEE ARSENIC REMOVAL PLANTS IN MURSHIDABAD

In village predominant India and Bangladesh even a highly successful technology may not succeed in rural areas unless there is a honest will of the politicians, it fits the rural circumstances and is well accepted by the rural mass. Development of such technology is only possible when a combination is made between bureaucrats, technocrats and villagers with proper village level participation.

The West Bengal Government has cleared the formalities & intends to spend almost Rs.3 crore to set up 573 arsenic removal plants in Murshidabad district alone, out of 9 arsenic affected districts of West Bengal, India. The work has been entrusted to Pal Trockner Company. The arsenic removal plant is manufactured by Pal Trockner (P) Ltd. in association with HARBAUER GmbH, Berlin, Germany. Between December 2000 and May 2001, forty nine such plants have been set up in Domkal , one out of the 26 blocks in Murshidabad.

During last 4 months (February-May, 2001) School of Environmental Studies, Jadavpur University, Calcutta, evaluated the performance and efficacy of these 49 plants installed in the villages of Domkol Block. The following conclusions have been reached after examining the plants over the last 4 months:

1. Nearly 80% of the plants time to time remain non-functional. Villagers are often unable to use them owing to mechanical defects. Problems they face include injuries caused by tubewell handles leaping up suddenly when depressed; water being sprayed from top of the tube-well when the handle is pressed down; the valve at the mouth of the tubewell getting jammed; the plants producing yellow-colored water. In some plants, the clean water produced is being consumed by cattle along with human beings. Instances are there where villagers are using plant water for washing their hands and feet and even for bathing. Objections elicit the reply, " The water is from government and for all, not anyone's private property."

2. Villagers allege that personnel entrusted with repairing and backwashing of the plants by Pal Trockner are irregular in attending to their duties. 8-10 plants are exceptions, e.g., the Domkal thana plant, the BDO office plant, the hospital plant, etc.

3. The arsenic removal plants are linked to 49 hand tube-wells. Of these, 34 have been found operational at different times, and have had samples collected from them. 15% of these tube-wells where arsenic removal plants have been connected show hardly any arsenic in their water. In 26%, the water has arsenic content below the tolerable level as fixed by the Government of India (50 microgram/litre). In a further 15%, the arsenic content is slightly above this level (67-72 microgram/litre). The arsenic level in the remaining 44% justifies the setting up of arsenic removal plants.

4. Our survey reveals that villages requiring immediate setting up of such plants have been excluded, whereas many villages have had plants set up in spite of not needing them.

5. At present, each plant costs Rs.52560/- to set up. Roughly 18 months later, 2 columns of each plant need to be replaced to ensure arsenic removal. The replacement costs around Rs.20,000/-. Further, periodical laboratory tests seem necessary to ascertain whether or not a plant is successfully removing arsenic.

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