The Shimla police has found that affluents are being discharged into the Ashwani Khad as the sewage treatment plant at Malyana has been non-functional for months. The rivulet is a source of drinking water for the state capital, which has been reeling under a jaundice outbreak for the past month.
As per the preliminary findings by police, who began the probe after Shimla Mayor Sanjay Chauhan and Deputy Mayor Tikender Panwar lodged an FIR, the equipment at the plant has been out of order for months, while the contractor (now absconding) has no stock of chemicals for treatment and chlorination. Police said bleaching power, bought perhaps in 2014, was still being used.
“No regular testing of the water was being done. The Malyana is a tell-tale story of complete callousness by agencies including the IPH, Pollution Control Board, health department and urban development agencies. Sewage discharge from the town flows directly into the water source, which is then supplied to residents without any treatment,” a senior police officer said while sharing the preliminary findings.
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The jaundice outbreak, with over 1,000 reported cases so far, has affected all sections of society from doctors and bureaucrats to students and tourists. There have been seven deaths, with IAS officer Priytu Mandal among those in a critical condition. He has been shifted to PGI in Chandigarh.
“IGMC surgeon Dr D K Verma and two of his brothers are among four jaundice patients from his family. The total reported cases is over 1,000 but there could be double this number as we have been told that tourists from other states and districts are also struggling with jaundice,” said Dr Ramesh Chand, senior medical superintendent at IGMC Shimla, the state’s premier health institution, who has himself just recovered from the disease.
The state government has, however, been accused of being slow to react. There has been no action against officials of the state Irrigation and Public Health Engineering (IPH) department, which is responsible for pumping ‘safe’ water to Shimla from the Ashwani Khad source. Only a junior engineer and two officials have been suspended so far. The have also been arrested.
The Shimla Municipal Corporation, which handles water distribution in the town, has stopped taking supply from Ashwani Khad and has put the IPH department on notice for alleged criminal negligence and apathy. “If the top IPH officials are not taken to task, suspended and booked for the deaths in Shimla ,the government will be failing it its duty. They have played with the lives of people. Why is the government sleeping and why are the guilty being protected?” asked Mayor Chauhan, whose wife has also been admitted with jaundice. He put the total number of patients at over 4,000.