No safe drinking water, no votes, says Bihar village

By Imran Khan, IANS,

Patna : Fed up with official apathy, people of a Bihar village, suffering for decades due to high fluoride content in drinking water, have sent politicians the simple message: no safe drinking water, no votes.

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Villagers in Khaira in the Jamui constituency have decided to boycott the April 16 polls and have banned the entry of politicians for campaigning.

“We have decided to boycott elections and will not allow the entry of politicians to draw the attention of officials over the failure to provide fluoride-free drinking water to us,” said Hardeo Prasad, a resident of Khaira, 200 km from here.

Another villager, Mukesh Kumar, said that Janata Dal-United (JD-U) legislator Anant Satyarthi was forced to go back after the people refused to listen to him.

“We did not allow him to enter the village for campaigning to show our anger and frustration,” Kumar said.

The villagers told the legislator that no politician would get any vote until the problem is solved.

The villagers have also put up posters – ‘No safe drinking water, no votes’ – at the entry point of the village.

“We will continue to boycott the elections till we are provided fluoride-free drinking water,” Rameshar Singh, a villager, said.

Khaira, with a population of nearly 6,000, hit the headlines in the early 1990s when a unusually high number of villagers were found to be suffering from fluorosis, which leads to bone diseases.

But the villagers say the problem was detected way back in the 70s when a tube well was installed in the village.

Residents say that people suffering from bone diseases, stooped backs, crooked hands and legs, deformed teeth and other handicaps are a common sight in the village.

“A large number of people in the village have been suffering from severe fluorosis for the last several decades, but successive governments have failed to provide us any relief,” Manju Devi, another villager, said.

Satyarthi admitted that he had faced the ire of the villagers on the drinking water problem.

“I admit that the plight of the villagers is bad and accept that excess fluoride in drinking water has crippled hundreds of villagers,” Satyarthi told IANS by telephone.

But in usual politician-style he blamed the earlier state governments for the problem and claimed that the government led by Nitish Kumar had initiated measures to provide safe drinking water.

“The seriousness of the problem can be measured from the fact that fluoride in water was found even 400 feet below the ground. Now the government plans to import filter machines to provide safe water to villagers,” he said.

Official sources in the Public Health and Engineering Department said that excess fluoride in drinking water is found in nine districts of Bihar.

“These districts have been found to have fluoride content above the permissible limit of one milligram per litre and urgent measures are required to ensure the supply of fluoride-free water to the people,” an official said.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at [email protected])