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Enemies in the water

Cancer in Mansa, and fluoride and arsenic contents in the region’s groundwater have shot up together. Many whom the state government had promised aid for treatment died being patient, and the rest continue to wait for systems that will purify water.

punjab Updated: Apr 25, 2012 11:08 IST
Bharat Khanna

Cancer in Mansa, and fluoride and arsenic contents in the region’s groundwater have shot up together. Many whom the state government had promised aid for treatment died being patient, and the rest continue to wait for systems that will purify water.

The regime supported 73 cancer patients and put 27 in queue. Of the 92 it declined to help, seven died after pleading on and on for assistance. Some were short of papers.

In June 2010, a team from the Centre for Ground Water Board (CGWB) collected samples of drinking water from Bhikhi and Mansa blocks of the district and tested it for only fluoride and arsenic.

In September 2011, it took more than 300 samples and checked for arsenic, lead, zinc, antimony, manganese, cadmium, copper, colour, odour, hydrogen potential, conductivity, chloride, carbonate, bi-carbonate, sulphade, nitrate, fluoride, calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium in all five blocks.

Study discredited

The district health department, in its last cancer survey from 2006 to 2011, came out with a report it no longer trusts. Its reason—auxiliary nurses and midwives, and accredited social health activists (ASHA workers) who did the investigation.

Birth defects

At Bakhshiwala in the Budhlada constituency, arsenic and fluoride have not only caused cancer but also birth defects of the physical and mental nature. “The state’s help is an eyewash,” said Sadhu Singh, former sarpanch of Bakhshiwala. “The groundwater at Bakhshiwala is oily, even when the RO water-filter unit is installed.” Arsenic is known to damage the nervous, urinary, and reproductive systems severely.

Harmanjot Kaur (2), Khuspreet Singh (6), Jagdev Kaur (12), Chanranjit Kaur (12), Laddi Singh (19), Veerpal Kaur (20), Satpal Singh (22), Manghu Singh (23), Harmeet Singh (23), Gaganpal Singh (23), Jugraj Singh (24), Amarjit Kaur (25), Major Singh (28), Paramjit Kaur (40), Gurwinder Singh (6), Gurdeep Singh (6), Sukhchain Singh (10), Jaswant Singh (42) and Kala Singh; all from one village, were born with defects.

Many times, the media have covered the issue, and villagers have gone to the district authorities, including the deputy commissioner, to seek help. “We asked him for money for the treatment of people fighting mental disabilities,” said former sarpanch Sadhu Singh. “The request was in vain.”

”In my village, many cancer patients died waiting for the government aid,” said Jasbir Singh, sarpanch of Mall Singh Wala. ”At sangat darshans, when we planned to meet the Bathinda MP, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the officials close to her asked us to submit applications to the DC. Officials fooled us by claiming our papers were incomplete.”

Gurmel Kaur Melo of Tahlian village lost her husband, Bhola Singh, to cancer. ”He was a labourer who died in his bed, in severe pain. He had cancer of the mouth,” said the widow. “If the government aid had reached us in time, my three daughters and a son would not have lost their father.”

Labourer Atma Singh of Dharampura village has throat cancer. The government assistance hasn’t reached him even after a year of applying. “My treatment is on at Bikaner in Rajasthan,” he said.

“Twice in the past one year, public officials visited me but did not deliver any money. I have four daughters and a son to bring up, and don’t even have enough money to catch a bus to Bikaner.”

The water purification campaign had covered more than 150 of 237 villages in Mansa district, executive engineer Garg, who looks after water supply and sanitation in the district, said. “In another six months, he added, “the RO systems will reach the rest of villages.

Not a single genuine case for help was rejected, claims Surinder Pal Singh Sureela, chief medical officer of Mansa. “Many cases are under process,” he said. “Applicants cannot be declared cancer patients until we have reports from a recognised institute or laboratory.

The Indian government now will build Cancer Diagnosis Cell In Mansa district for the prevention and control of not only cancer but also diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and stroke. The disease will be confirmed at the cell.”