Arsenic contamination on rise, Kolkata Mayor promises tubewell-free city by ’19

Kolkata Municipal Corporation working on plan to widen supply network and provide treated water 24x7 to citizens

By: Express News Service | Kolkata | Updated: November 6, 2016 3:49 am
Mayor Sovan Chatterjee in Kolkata Thursday. Partha Paul File Photo: Mayor Sovan Chatterjee in Kolkata

With arsenic contamination reaching critical levels, Kolkata Mayor and state Environment Minister Sovan Chatterjee on Saturday said that the city was going to be made tubewell-free in the next three years, with the Kolkata Municipal Corporation working on a plan to widen its supply network and provide treated water 24×7 to its citizens. He also said that the KMC will increase its drinking water supply capacity to 210 million gallon per day in the next two years from the 180 million gallons now.

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According to a recent study, arsenic contamination levels have increased at a alarming rate in Kolkata since 2009. Of the 144 wards in Kolkata, 100 have arsenic contamination levels that are significantly higher than the limits deemed safe by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The study, which was published in the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Journal in September, notes, “It is clear that the groundwater arsenic contamination of Kolkata has changed drastically since 2009. The wards under arsenic contamination threat have increased in number, and the situation in most parts of Kolkata has become seriously alarming.”

The study adds that this increase in contamination isn’t just related to the increase in population, but is also dependent on the “lack of groundwater replenishment in certain regions”. Chatterjee, told industry members at the Climate Conclave 2016 on Saturday that while the agency wanted to supply water 24×7 to citizens, “the whole idea is to make the system less costly but more environment-friendly.”

Chatterjee claimed that good planning and efficient execution will define how healthy the citizens will be in the years to come, adding that he would seek “suggestions and guidance” from industry members in spreading awareness about climate change and allied hazards to the environment and humans. The state environment department has set up a ‘Climate Change Cell’ and officials said that the aim was to take a range of initiatives to promote environment-friendly initiatives across the state.

The study further notes that in 2009, arsenic contamination was limited to central, southeast, and western regions of the city, while their study found that “the major area in north and central Kolkata has entered the red zone”, while “parts of south and far west Kolkata have recovered” with arsenic contamination being less than 10 ?g/L. The “most dramatic change” was observed in the northern part of the city. It said, “far-north Kolkata has jumped to the red zone (critical) directly from the green zone (safe) over a period of 7 years.”

While the study states that the rapid decline of water quality in northern Kolkata is “somewhat puzzling”, it points out the possibility of the rapid urbanization at Rajarhat as a possible reason. “There had been quite rapid urbanization in some parts of this region too and if one considers the growth of the new township at the northeastern part of the city (Rajarhat New Town), the observation may not be entirely surprising,” the study adds.

Abraham Stephanos, chairman, Environment Task Force, CII-ER and managing director, Tata Steel Processing & Distribution Ltd, described climate change as a global threat, one of the major causes being green house gas emission. He also explained the objectives of the conference saying this conclave seeked to provide an excellent platform for exchange of ideas on a plethora of climate change mitigation actions adopted by industries and amongst various stakeholders. “Green management opportunities, climate finance, vulnerability assessment, adaptive capacity and integrated planning in response to climate change are some of the focus areas,” he said.

Anil Vaswani, chairman, CII West Bengal, said, “Massive carbon emissions in the atmosphere, which have far exceeded pre-industrial values, is a major area of worry. So are deforestation, sulfate aerosol and black carbon which lead to the ozone layer depletion and changing climate.”