Six years ago, solemnising marriages of youths was a pipedream in Simaria Ojhapatti village in this district. The reason: arsenic contamination in groundwater and the fear of people contracting diseases caused by its consumption.
That was 2004. Two years later, Bhojpur, 90 km west of Patna, was the first district in Bihar to be declared arsenic-hit.
Hindustan Times had on Thursday reported that at least 18 babies were born blind in the past three months because their families consume groundwater with alarming levels of arsenic content. Arsenic content in groundwater in some villages of Bhojpur was found to be more than 1,800 parts per billion (ppb) against the World Health Organization-stipulated limit of 50 ppb considered safe for human consumption.
Revisiting the Simaria Ojhapatti village after six years, one does not find very many people left here for people have fled in droves, abandoning their houses and other property for fear of arsenic-related diseases, including cancer of the intestines, skin diseases and gangrene.
Schoolteacher Chinta Ojha, 42, got worried about arsenic in the groundwater around the time people began to flee. Despite her posting at the Middle School, Simaria, and having a house in this village, she shifted with her family to district headquarters Ara, 30 km away.
Mohanlal Ojha, 50, another schoolteacher of Anpeshwar Sanskrit Vidyalaya, Simaria, abandoned his house to stay as a tenant in Ara. The hand pumps on the campus of their residences have tested positive for arsenic – much above limit stipulated by the WHO. And piped water is a dream here.
“The list of people who have left is long and the flight of residents is still unabated,” said village elder Raghuraj Ojha, 55, who is also the president of the 13-member village committee on arsenic, constituted at the instance of the state government’s public health & engineering department (PHED).
Such has been the state government’s apathy in mitigating the problem of arsenic that today people are not interested even in narrating their travails. For example, Kundeshwar Nath Ojha, 45, who lost his mother and wife to the killer arsenic, is suffering from arsenicosis, but would not like to be either photographed or asked about its symptoms. “What do I gain?” he asks this reporter. “Everyone comes and takes our photographs, but the government does nothing to ameliorate our suffering,” he said.
“Look at the water tank, constructed by the PHED in 2004. The tank was constructed so that arsenic-free water from a deep tube-well could be pumped into it. Never has a drop of water flown into it for the simple reason that the government is yet to complete the exercise of laying the pipes even after so many years. Despite tall claims of distribution of arsenic kits, we have never got one in the village.”
Simaria Ojhapatti is not the only arsenic-affected village in this block. More than 45 of the block’s 110 villages have arsenic contents well over the safe limit.