The problem of groundwater arsenic contamination is common across the Northeast, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, the Minister for Jal Shakti, informed the Rajya Sabha.
Shekhawat was responding to a question posed by Tripura MP Jharna Das of Communist Party of India (Marxist). Das had recently raised the question of iron and arsenic contamination in the drinking water of her state.
Shekhawat in his answer stated, “As reported by North–Eastern States, 1,247 habitations in Assam are affected by Arsenic contamination in groundwater; 231 habitations in Arunachal Pradesh, 1,356 habitations in Tripura and 19,804 habitations in Assam are having Iron contamination in groundwater sources.”
Das asked when the Ministry would take steps in providing non-toxic drinking water to the eight states, especially in Tripura.
Shekhawat said the GoI, in partnership with the states, is implementing the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) to provide every rural household with access to potable water supply by 2024.
“Under JJM, while planning water supply schemes to provide potable water to households through tap water connection, priority is given to quality–affected habitations. State Governments are prioritising water supply schemes in quality–affected habitations including Arsenic and Iron–affected habitations,” he added.
Additionally, in all arsenic–affected habitations of Assam, the department has made provisions for potable drinking water for cooking and drinking purposes. “To expedite the implementation of Jal Jeevan Mission, regular review meetings are held and field visits along with follow-up with State Governments,” stated the Jal Minister.
Under Jal Jeevan Mission, Manipur, Meghalaya, and Sikkim have planned to provide tap water supply to every household by 2022, whereas Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura by 2023 and Assam by 2024.
The states of Northeast India have been facing long-standing issues with groundwater contamination. Long-term consumption of groundwater rich in arsenic can lead to chronic poisoning, causing diseases like cancer, bronchitis, diabetes, bone marrow depression, and cardiovascular diseases.
World Health Organisation (WHO) states that a maximum of 10 ppb (part per billion) or 0.01 mg/litre of arsenic, and 1 mg/litre of fluoride in drinking water is safe. However, the global health body also states that the presence of arsenic even as low as 0.17 ppb can cause cancer.
Consumption of arsenic in drinking water has also been associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In utero and early childhood, exposure has been linked to negative impacts on cognitive development and increased deaths in young adults as stated by WHO.