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In Sonia seat,village waits for clean water as it fights fluorosis

The village has high fluoride content in the groundwater.

Written by SURBHI KHYATI | Kanhamau,rae Bareli |
July 26, 2011 2:49:24 am

It’s a village of 250-odd houses,mostly farming families. The population is around 1,000. People here may be born healthy but,chances are,many will die crippled. Most adults have deformed limbs,making it very difficult to walk,sit on the ground or work in the fields. They are all victims of fluorosis.

The village,which falls in Rae Bareli’s Kheero development block,has high fluoride content in the groundwater. Yet,everyone here drinks water from the 40 handpumps or two wells.

Under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM),Rae Bareli and three other Uttar Pradesh districts were allotted special funds under the ‘National Programme for Prevention and Control of Fluorosis’ in April 2010. While Rs 25 lakh each was given for Unnao and Rae Bareli — which is represented by Sonia Gandhi in Parliament — Rs 42 lakh each was given for Ferozabad and Pratapgarh.

The funds were released by the authorities in Lucknow,but at the fag end of the financial year in March. Four months later,there is no sign of any change on the ground.

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As a review by a Central team probing the bungling in NRHM funds in Uttar Pradesh says,the funds were meant to help procure lab equipment,meet recurring expenditures in laboratory diagnosis,train medical and paramedical staff,as well as to educate people about the disease.

The “inordinate delay” of 11 months in releasing the funds “defeated the purpose for which the funds were released from the Government of India”,says the review.

“About half the people in Kanhamau village are suffering from some fluoride-related disability or the other,” says pradhan Vindhesh Sharma. His own mother had been confined to bed before her death because she could not walk,while his father had to crawl “because his legs would simply not support him until he underwent treatment in Kanpur”.

Three years ago,Sharma’s teenage son fell to the disease. He took him to SGPGI,Lucknow,paying Rs 10,000 for treatment.

Still,Sharma is luckier,having the means to go to Kanpur and Lucknow. To most villagers,either small farmers,or labourers in fields and at MNREGA sites,the government help that never came was their only succour.

In the initial stages,the treatment of fluorosis is very simple — requiring calcium supplements,anti-oxidants and Vitamin B complex. It’s when deformity sets in that physiotherapy is required,which too can be provided locally. Only in cases of advanced deformity does a patient need corrective surgery. The only way to prevent the disease,however,is to ensure safe flouride-free drinking water.

Kanhamau incidentally had boycotted the 2009 Lok Sabha election over the government failure to provide them safe drinking water. “None of us cast our vote. We know the only solution is safe drinking water,but the government does not care,” said Sharma.

While visiting government officials too had forbidden the villagers from drinking water from the well,for at least 35 families of the village this is the primary source of water,admitted Village Development Officer Badlu Gupta.

After his son fell ill,Sharma removed the handpump near their house and made arrangements to fetch water from a private tubewell. Some other families now get drinking water from the tubewell,which is more than a kilometre away.

But again,this is a luxury the villagers can’t afford.

Samarjit,whose uncle and aunt suffer from fluorosis,said the community health centre at Kheero does not have the medicines they need — again something NRHM funds are supposed to take care of. Dr G Kumaria,CMO of Rae Bareli,contests this,claiming that treatment of fluorosis was available in the district hospital. “We will look into why the treatment is not being provided in the CHC.”

Dr O P Verma,nodal officer of the fluorosis prevention and control programme in Rae Bareli,said the programme had just begun and the training of staff was yet to start.

For those like Rajkumari,who is in her late 40s and confined to bed for the past five years,time is fast running out. “My husband died 15 years ago and both my sons are working in Punjab. Only my old mother-in-law and my daughter are here. My daughter has to look after me. My mother-in-law has to take care of the land because if she doesn’t,we will not have anything to eat.’’

‘Highly irregular’

Funds for Unnao,Rae Bareli,Ferozabad and Pratapgarh districts were released on April 28,2010,but none of the four districts actually got the money till March 9,2011 — the end of the financial year. Moreover,Pratapgarh and Ferozabad,which were supposed to get Rs 42.2 lakh each,got only Rs 41 lakh each. “…for sustenance of account in any nationalised bank not more than Rs 1,000 is required with cheque book and e-banking facilities,” remarked the Central review. “This (the non-disperal of funds) is highly irregular.” Babu Singh Kushwaha was the Family Welfare Minister and Pradeep Shukla was the Principal Secretary of Family Welfare and Mission Director of the NRHM during the period convered by the reivew. While Kushwaha was removed after the scam broke,Shukla was transferred.

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