Dark zone endures
In Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh, the administration is as callous as ever. Arsenic contamination of water has crippled many people in the district, but the local administration fails to take viable measures to combat the predicament. When Down To Earth had first reported the problem in September 2004, the administration had wished away the adverse health impacts of arsenic as parthenium poisoning. Furthermore, the administration's analysis of groundwater (conducted by Lucknow-based Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, itrc ) indicated there was no arsenic contamination. Reason: itrc took the permissible limit to be 50 parts per billion (ppb) whereas, in September 2003, the Bureau of Indian Standards (bis) had announced a lower limit of 10 ppb.
To date, the administration follows the 50 ppb standard. "Though bis has changed its limit, the Union government told us to adhere to the 50 standard,' S R Sharma, executive engineer of up Jal Nigam, Ballia, told Down to Earth. This stance is partly due to a letter (dated October 8, 2004) by the chairperson of the New Delhi-based Central Ground Water Board (cgwb), as per which, "all drinking water sources where concentration of arsenic in groundwater is found to be in excess of 50 ppb should be sealed.'
Subsequently, Sharma wrote to Vinod Kumar Malik, the district magistrate of Ballia, stating that the Jal Nigam had got 41 water samples tested from itrc; in 24 samples, arsenic concentration was found to be within the 50 ppb limit. "Therefore, water of India mark ii handpumps is fit for consumption,' the letter stated. Here, it is important to note that subsequent water testing undertaken by the administration showed that in many parts of Ballia, arsenic concentration is above 50 ppb. In one sample, arsenic was found to be as high as 102 ppb! But none of these water sources have been sealed, as instructed by cgwb .
Ostrich-like attitude The government may be lax about combating the problem, but it showed remarkable alacrity in acting on another front. It sent legal notices to Down To Earth, demanding an apology; else the magazine would be sued and a penalty of Rs 10 lakh imposed. Through its lawyer, the magazine sent a reply against the legal notices, stating that it stood by its article. As expected, no further communication was received from the Ballia administration.