People of Garhwa have reasons to be optimistic that their children will be free from crippling skeletal fluorosis, a common disease that leads to physical deformities and even a compression of the spinal cord.
Reacting to the HT report on this last month, union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh had written to Jharkhand chief minister Arjun Munda, requesting immediate intervention. Ramesh told Munda he had asked department of drinking water and sanitation secretary Navin Kumar to be in touch with his counterpart in Jharkhand regarding the issue and help the state to take remedial steps.
Subsequently the Centre sent a five-member team, led by AK Susheela, executive director of the Flurosis Research & Rural Development Foundation (FRRDF), New Delhi, to Pratapur, a hamlet comprising 70 Dalit families. Here people are suffering from various forms of fluorosis because of the consumption of groundwater with a high fluoride content.
“We cannot have a civil society like this,” Susheela told HT while holding a meeting with the deputy commissioner in Garhwa, around 220 km northwest of Ranchi.
The NGO, after conducting the enquiry, has announced an early fluorosis detection centre will be set up at the local hospital. This will ensure five years from now no children is born or suffers from the disease.
The team conducted an extensive study of the affected villages and found the situation alarming. “The condition is very bad,” Susheela said. “Whatever damage has been done cannot be corrected. But if we wake up now, the next generations can be protected from the disease,” she said.
HT also received from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) an email that said the body had taken cognizance of the report on fluorosis deaths and a team would go to Garhwa to conduct an enquiry.