UP polls: Remote hamlets in Sonbhadra district battling fluoride water menace for decades
Fluorosis is the top concern in the rough and rocky terrain of Duddhi, Uttar Pradesh’s most remote assembly constituency
The campaign for the UP polls is in full swing, but like in every election, no politician raises the issue of fluoride in water harming the health of people in 169 fluoride-affected villages of Sonbhadra district in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Despite the apparent political nonchalance, many locals are talking about the issue this time in the UP polls.
At least two people have fluorosis, some mild and others serious, in every third family in these villages. The problem has been persisting for over three decades.
Harish Tiwari, resident of Myorpur, says, “Fluoride in water is a big problem. It causes stiffness, joint pain and weakens the bones. This is not an issue for the politicians, but for locals, fluoride in water is a big plank in this election.”
Sonbhadra’s Myoropur is part of Duddhi (constituency no. 403), the most remote assembly seat in Uttar Pradesh. Duddhi goes to polls in the last of the seven-phase polls on March 7.
Social worker Jagat Vishwakarma says, “Around 169 villages in four development blocks Myorpur, Duddhi, Babhani and Chopan, are affected by fluoride in water. Jal Nigam has set up fluoride removal plants in over five dozen villages. Still, people in around 100 villages are bound to drink water comprising fluoride.”
Take the case of Ramshankar Bharati. Troubled by joint paint, he lies down on a cot at his house in the remote village of Kusumaha in a rough and rocky pocket of Duddhi.
“I have severe joint pain and stiffness in legs and hands. So, I am lying on the cot. I don’t want to get up because joint pain increases as I try to get up and sit,” says Ramshankar Bharati, adding that he suffers pain because of fluoride in water, which he has been drinking for a long time.
Ramshankar came to know that he suffers with fluorisis when he went to a doctor to seek relief from joint pain. He has been bedridden for two months.
Like him, Asarfi Bharati, a native of Govindpur, in his mid 50s and Champa Devi, 70, also complain of serious joint pain.
“See, fluoride in water, which I had been drinking since childhood, caused deformity and discoloured my teeth. Now, it has started showing serious effects as I often have joint pains,” says Asarfi Bharati and adds that it gradually reduces muscle flexibility due to which it becomes difficult to stretch or bend the hands.
Fluoridated water is now leading to a social problem. People from other villages don’t want to marry off their daughters in the fluoride affected villages because they think that their daughters will have to drink fluoridated water which eventually will affect their health, says Asarfi.
He acknowledges that one fluoride removal plant equipped with 5,000 litre tank was set up in the village two years ago by Jal Nigam and a company supply filtered pure water to the locals by tankers.
Dr Rajiv Ranjan, medical superintendent of Myropur community health centre, says, “Fluoride in water (fluoridated water) is harmful for health because drinking water containing fluoride causes deposition of fluoride in the bones gradually. This deposition of fluoride results in skeletal fluorosis and dental fluorosis, that is teeth discolouration and teeth deformity. The person suffering from skeletal fluorosis has severe joint pain and stiffness.”
Among some people, fluorosis also causes psychological illness. Therefore, the people are advised not to drink water containing fluoride, advises Dr Ranjan as he attends several patients suffering from joint pains daily at the OPD.
Dr Ranjan says that it also hinders growth of children.
It is not as if the locals, over the years, have not approached the government to solve the problem.
For instance, the locals and social worker Jagat Vishwakarma wrote a letter to the Samajwadi Party (SP) government in 2016 and the BJP government in 2018 and 2019. In 2016, a delegation comprising Vishwakarma called on the then chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and the then governor Ram Naik and submitted one memorandum each to them. All reportedly assured them to address the problem.
Gaurav Singh, executive engineer at UP Jal Nigam (Sonbhadra) says, “Ninety-eight solar-based fluoride removal units comprising a 5,000 litre tank each have been set up in over 60 villages. Work is on to set up 30 more solar-based fluoride removal units in the fluoride affected villages in order that the locals may get pure potable water.”
However, those familiar with issue in the department, say around 200 fluoride removal units are required to ensure availability of fluoride-free pure drinking water in all 169 villages.
The fluoride removal plants were set up during the last three years. A single fluoride removal unit each in several villages is insufficient in view of the population. The houses are located far and wide in these remote hamlets, says Jagat Vishwakarma.
A potable water pipeline is being laid in these areas to provide fresh pure potable water to every individual. Some companies, under corporate social responsibility, supply filtered potable water in fluoride-affected villages from water tankers. Locals say no other step has been taken to address the problem.
Dashmati Devi, another resident of Govindpur village in Myorpur area, says water has fluoride due to which even teeth of children aged above five get discoloured and senior citizens face many health problems.
Dinesh Kumar, Maula Ali and Ramdular Yadav from villages in Myorpur, says it is the duty of the government to make arrangements to provide pure potable water to the people.
Many of these remote villages have over 20 tolas (sub-villages) with population of over 4,000 together, says Vishwakarma.
“This issue never became a poll plank for the political parties. Candidates of political parties seek votes from locals by promising the moon. But they don’t talk about taking concrete steps like setting up fluoride removal plants in the villages as per need,” says Vishwakarma.
But in this election, many locals are talking about it, Vishwakarma adds and demands that fluoride testing lab should be set up in Myorpur.
Social worker and teacher Subhash Prasad Shahi says that in the fluoride-affected zones of Sonbhadra, which is rich in natural resources, fluoride-affected water, and unemployment coupled with inflation are big issues.
Shahi says politicians visit villages during election only. After elections, they forget the villages and villagers. If the politicians want to do something good for these remote pockets, they should work for promoting cottage industry in the region, he suggests as the area is rich in Mahua and Van Tulsi trees.
Dileep Kumar Singh, a social worker and teacher, feels that good medical facilities should be developed and whoever is elected as the local MLA should focus on ensuring availability of fluoride-free pure drinking water in order that the people don’t suffer with fluorisis.
There is one government health centre each in Myorpur and Chopan but these are not new.
Even so, amid the poll din, Vanvasi Seva Ashram distributed around 100 fluoride removal chambers (buckets) among the locals in Kusumaha.