Contaminated Drinking Water

By: Staff Reporter
Water availability in India is constantly decreasing and is under threat due to the increasing levels of pollution. Out of nearly 17 lakh rural habitations in the country, only 5 lakh have access to safe drinking water supply through pipes in 2013.

The per capita water availability in the country as a whole is reducing progressively due to increase in population. The average annual per capita availability of water in the country, taking into consideration the population of the country as per the 2001 census, was 1816 cubic meters which decreased to 1545 cubic meters as per the 2011 census. According to Falkenmark Water Stress Indicator, water availability below 1,700m3 per capita per year indicates water stress condition. The Indian government is taking steps for augmentation, conservation and efficient management of water resources through respective state governments as water is a state subject. Technical and financial assistance to states through various schemes and programmes such as Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP); Command Area Development and Water Management (CAD & WM); repair, renovation and restoration of water bodies; demonstrative projects on rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge are being undertaken. The Indian government has also launched National Water Mission with main objective as “conservation of water, minimizing wastage and ensuring its more equitable distribution both across and within States through integrated water resources development and management”.

Urban India

The Indian government supplements the efforts of state governments/union territories by providing funds for the implementation of water supply projects through schemes such as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) which has two components, i.e. Urban Infrastructure and Governance (UIG) component and Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns (UIDSSMT) component, the North Eastern Region Urban Development Programme (NERUDP), the Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Satellite towns (UIDSST) and the 10 per cent lump-sum scheme for the north-eastern region including Sikkim. In addition, a 100 MLD sea water reverse osmosis technology based desalination plant has been sanctioned for Chennai etc.

A High Powered Expert Committee set up by the Ministry of Urban Development for estimating investment requirement for urban infrastructure services for next 20 years (2012-2031) has pointed out that maintenance of existing assets has remained largely unattended. It has estimated expenditure on operation and maintenance (O&M) of urban water supply services at Rs 5.46 lakh crore. This takes into account both the cost of O&M of existing assets as well as of new assets that will be created over the 20 year period. Moreover, a large number of drinking water supply projects approved for implementation have been delayed for reasons which include delays in tendering, land acquisition, litigation, shortage of labour, inadequate planning during detailed project report stage, improper land use, lack of inter-departmental co-ordination, etc (Table 1).

Rural India

As reported by the states on the online Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) of the Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation, out of the 16,66,075 rural habitations in the country, 5,05,309 have access to safe drinking water supply through pipes as on April 2013.

Adequate drinking water supply facility in all rural habitations within a time frame has been included as a component of Bharat Nirman. At the commencement of Bharat Nirman 2005, 55067 uncovered habitations, 3,31,604 slipped back/partially covered habitations and 2,16,968 quality affected habitations were identified. Of these targeted habitations, at the end of Phase-I, in 2009, there were 627 uncovered, 5,09,403 slipped back/partially covered and 1,79,999 quality affected habitations yet to be covered with provision of safe and adequate drinking water. In 2012, although records claim that there are no uncovered habitations remaining in the country, however as reported by the states on the online IMIS, out of the 16,64,186 rural habitations in the country, 1,04,160 are quality affected and 330,504 partially covered/slipped back habitations. State governments have been urged to prepare their annual action plans targeting to cover these habitations on a priority basis. To achieve the target of providing safe and adequate drinking water to all habitations in the country, the allocation of funds for rural drinking water has been increased substantially from Rs 2,585 crore in the year 2004-05 to Rs 10,500 crore in 2012-13.

Under the National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) 3 per cent of national allocation is provided to states under the Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance component (WQM&S). States are to use allocation under this component to set up state, district and sub district level water quality testing laboratories to test drinking water samples. As reported by the states on the IMIS, as on 30.4.2013, 24 state level, 732 district level and 1154 sub district level laboratories have been set up.

As drinking water is primarily sought from groundwater, its health assumes primemost importance. Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) under the Ministry of Water Resources monitors groundwater quality of shallow aquifers on a regional scale, reportedly once every year through a network of 15653 (data pertains to 2012) observation wells located throughout the nation. As per groundwater quality data—several parts of India suffer from contamination by salinity, arsenic, fluoride, iron, nitrate and heavy metals. Eight states have excess concentration of arsenic, 19 states have higher concentration of fluoride, 20 states have higher concentration of nitrate and 23 states have higher concentration of iron beyond prescribed norms. There are also reports of sporadic occurrence of heavy metals such as lead, chromium, cadmium and manganese in the groundwater in 13 states. Since in-situ treatment of contaminated aquifers is difficult, remedial measures are concentrated on providing alternate sources of water supply. The CGWB assists states in identifying aquifers which are free from geogenic contaminants. Besides, Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation has informed
that 20 per cent of the allocated funds under NRDWP are earmarked for water quality problems.

Not only is arsenic and other heavy metals in groundwater affecting people who are consuming it but heavy metal content found in grains produced in several areas of the country is having cascading deleterious effects on India’s population as a whole. Thus heavy metal toxicity is not a localised issue but one that needs to be seen on absoluteness. National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), a constituent organisation of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), has carried out studies in collaboration with Rice Research Station, Chinsurah, Hoogly, West Bengal. The contamination of arsenic in rice, including the dangerous implication of consumption of such arsenic contaminated rice grains is documented in the study. To overcome this menace, CSIR-NBRI has identified low grain arsenic rice cultivar (CN 1646-2, CN1643-3, Gotrabhog and Nayanamoni), which has been recommended for growing in West Bengal.

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