In the eye of storm

Of late, Bihar's Bhojpur district has hogged the limelight in media, Parliament and the High Court for all the wrong reasons. But the primary reason was that at least 18 children were born blind in that arsenic-affected district in Central Bihar in the last four months.

This was not a finding of any NGO. It was a disclosure made by Bihar's Health Minister Nand Kishore Yadav on the floor of the Assembly.
Yadav also said the matter would be thoroughly examined by an expert group of opthalmologists, including eye experts from the USA.

But one month after the assurance made no headway, the Patna High Court asked the Central Pollution Control Board to test water samples in the areas from where arsenic and fluoride contamination had been reported in Bihar.
The court asked the Bihar Government to bear all the expenses incurred by the pollution board in doing so.

Before the court's intervention, the matter was raised in the Lok Sabha in early May by the JD (U) MP Meena Singh, who dwelt at length about the pathetic situation prevailing there, and sought central assistance.

What exactly arsenic is?
Arsenic is basically an odourless and tasteless semi-metal element, which occurs naturally in the environment and sometimes as a byproduct of agriculture and industry.
The government had earlier admitted about the presence of high level of arsenic in 15 Bihar districts on either side of the Ganga, thereby posing a threat of an array of diseases like blindness, cancer, kidney and bladder disorders, gangrene, bone deformation and skin diseases.

In some parts of the district, which had recorded highest level of arsenic, villagers complained of weakening and warping of bones and dreadful rashes and lumps on the skin.

Though the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines permit arsenic up to 10 parts per billion (ppb), and the Indian Government allows 50 ppb, a nondescript village Harail Chapar in Samastipur in Bihar recorded 2100 ppb when a random survey was carried out.
Other worst-affected districts include Buxar, Vaishali, Darbhanga, Saran, Bhagalpur, Samastipur, Khagaria and Katihar, Patna and Munger.  The survey, however, said that deeper aquifers below 80 metres were free of arsenic.

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