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October 25, 2013

Safe drinking water for all: Public Health Engineering in Bengal

Safe drinking water for all: Public Health Engineering in Bengal
The Public Health Engineering Department in West Bengal has strived hard to achieve during the last two years.  Being one of the key departments working for overall development, its relentless works have ushered in a new way of life, hitherto unseen by people in rural Bengal. Under the able guidance of the Chief Minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee, new strategies are being taken up, put into action at the quickest possible time and common people are benefitting from the same.
Function of the PHE in West Bengal
Public Health Engineering Department (PHE) controls the Water Supply & Sanitation Budget of the State Government and provides water supply and sanitation services mainly through Public Health Engineering Directorate under its administrative control. 
PHE is aiming towards minimizing the spatial imbalance and rural push through intensive adoption of rural water supply and sanitation programmes. It is identifying the existing deficiencies, setting up objectives and formulating an action plan with short, mid and long term goals supported by policy and institutional frameworks. 
The first major initiative of the present Government was the preparation of VISION 2020 document with both short-term and long-term plans at an estimated cost of Rs 1,295 Crores and Rs 21,125 Crores respectively.
Major achievements in the past two years
During the period from May, 2011 till March, 2013, 271 piped water supply schemes have been sanctioned to cover a population of 62,75,993. During the same period, coverage of Rural Population through Piped Water facility has enhanced from 37.95% to 42%. Further, approximately 19,500 spot sources for water supply have been created during the period.
PHE is paying special attention on Water Quality Surveillance and Monitoring through existing 120 water testing laboratories. To strengthen the facility, Detailed Project Report for further 100 water quality monitoring laboratories has been sanctioned.
PHE in Districts
This Government, for the first time, has given special attention to the people of Jangalmahal Area (spanning the districts of Purulia, Bankura and Paschim Medinipur) by sanctioning 50 Piped Water Supply Schemes to cover a population of 3.14 lakh. As on March 31, 2013, 25 schemes have been commissioned, 10 are under trial run in the district of Paschim Midnapur and remaining schemes are at an advanced stage of completion and expected to be completed by December 2013.
In the district of Bankura, which falls under arid zone and where drinking water is scarce, a comprehensive water supply scheme has been taken up under Bankura Phase-I Water Supply Project, covering 14 blocks. This project aims to cover a design population of 30.15 lakh. Moreover, technical clearance has been obtained for Cluster of Water Supply Schemes under Bankura Phase-II.
For comprehensive water supply coverage, special initiative has been taken in Purulia district and water supply project aiming at covering a population of 15.14 lakh has been sanctioned.
In South 24 Parganas, another big Surface Water Based Water Supply Scheme for saline affected areas of Kulpi and adjoining 9 Blocks has been taken up. This project will cover a population of 32.89 lakh in 902 mouzas of 10 blocks in the district. Work has been started for a Water Treatment Plant.
PHE Department has plans to set up drinking Water Bottling Plants to cater to the emergency situations like drought or flood and to provide safe drinking water to the large crowds on different occasions like fairs or rallies. Detailed plans for 8 such Water Bottling Plants in South 24 Paraganas, Siliguri, Coochbehar, Malda, Murshidabad, Purbasthali, Haringhata and Barrackpore have been prepared. In the first phase, the works in South 24 Parganas have been completed and the plants at Haringhata, Nadia, Purbasthali, Bardhaman, Lalbag and Murshidabad are being implemented.
The Balason Pumping Scheme for the Darjeeling Town, which will eventually provide relief to 1,75,000 population, is on process after obtaining the required land from army to lay a 4 km. long pipeline. PHE is also emphasizing on the use of renewable energy sources. For that purpose, 2 Solar Power Based Water Supply Schemes for Shridharkati, Block-Hingalgunj, North 24 Parganas and Kamakhyapur, at Sunderban Island – covering 10 Villages, and populations of 38,1781 – have been sanctioned. In addition to above, another 704 of solar power based dual Piped Water Supply Schemes in Bankura, Paschim Medinipur and Purulia have been cleared.
Projects in the pipeline
In Phase-II, in Bankura District, Water Supply Project for 5 blocks, Mejia, Gangajalghati, Indpur, Taldangra and Sonamukhi will be taken up.
Augmentation of Water Supply Scheme for Siliguri Municipal Corporation and adjoining Rural Areas has been planned.
In order to provide sweet water to the people of the salinity affected areas of the State a holistic approach has been initiated by PHE. Construction of a desalination plant with a capacity of 15 MLD will be carried out at Digha, Purba Medinipur; the project will cover 2.18 lakh people in 156 mouzas of Ramnagar-I & II block. Another plant with a capacity 10 MLD will also be taken up at Basirhat Block in North 24 Parganas to cover 1.23 lakh populations in 22 mouzas of Basirhat-I block. On successful commissioning of such desalination plants, the project will be replicated in other saline areas of the State.
Monitoring Committee
In September 2013, a District level Monitoring Committee was constituted for the assessment of Commissioned Ongoing Piped Water Supply Schemes under PHE Department.
The Monitoring Committee has been asked to :
>> Assess whether all the Villages/habitations considered during inception of the particular Piped Water.
>> Supply Scheme is presently getting the benefit of supply of potable drinking water. Also the habitations, during any subsequent augmentation /extension of the said Piped Water Supply Scheme, are presently getting the necessary level of supply of potable drinking water.
>> Assess whether the quantity of supplied drinking water at present within the coverage area of a particularly Piped Water Supply Scheme is adequate enough to meet the daily demand of the people living within the command area of the Piped Water Supply Scheme.
>> Ascertain that the quality of drinking water supplied to the consumers at present is safe and conforms to the BIS water quality standards.
>> Assess whether the particular Piped Water Supply Scheme requires immediate Augmentation and/or Rejuvenation.
>> Assess whether there is any local demand for addition l inclusion of adjacent habitations to the existing command area of the Piped Water Supply Scheme and adjudge the technical feasibility of any such proposed extension.
>> Review the ongoing Piped Water Supply Schemes in terms of physical and financial progress.
Arsenic Mitigation
West Bengal has had a history of arsenic contamination in water. The first reports of the same came in the early 80`s. Some cases of people suffering from arsenical dermatitis in the districts of 24 Parganas (South), 24 Parganas (North), Nadia, Murshidabad, Malda and Burdwan were detected through epidemiological studies conducted by School of Tropical Medicine, Kolkata and All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health.
At present, 79 Blocks of 8 districts have shown the presence of excess arsenic in ground water. Some municipal towns including a part of Kolkata Municipal Corporation have shown presence of excess arsenic in ground water.  Population of these Blocks and the municipal towns can be said to be at risk. However, in the Municipal towns, water supply schemes are better organized with piped water facility and deeper aquifer alternative sources, thus helping people in getting arsenic-free water.
The following steps were taken up by PHE for Arsenic mitigation :
>> Continue water quality monitoring.
>> Construct deeper aquifer tubewells, having reasonably thick clay barrier above to avoid leaching of arsenic from overlying aquifer, Spot and Piped for Small Community and multi-village Schemes.
>> Provide   Arsenic Treatment Unit (ATU) with hand-pump fitted tubewells and Arsenic Removal Plants for big-dia tubewells for piped water schemes.
>> Implement Water Supply Schemes based on Rain Water Harvesting Structures and Natural Water Bodies.
>> Implement large Piped Water Supply Schemes based on river water where economically and technically feasible.
A Master plan has been prepared on future mitigation measures in consultation with the Arsenic Task Force, Govt. of West Bengal in order to cover all the arsenic affected habitations so far identified on long term basis.  In preparing the Master Plan the following recommendation of the Arsenic Task Force has been considered:
>> All the arsenic affected villages to be covered by piped water supply schemes.
>> Areas covered by existing Short Term and Mid Term Measures such as ATU attached Hand Pump Tube wells, Replacement Tube wells etc. should also be included within the future plan of action.
>> Attempts to be made to cover the affected areas with surface water wherever available.
>> Affected areas, which cannot be covered under the existing / proposed surface water based piped water supply schemes, should be served from ground water based piped water supply schemes.
>> All proposed ground water based new piped water supply schemes should be provided with an Arsenic Removal Plant unless a safe aquifer well separated from the contaminated layer by thick impermeable barrier is available.
>> All existing ground water based piped water supply schemes in the affected areas should be provided with Arsenic Removal except where safe aquifer well separated from the contaminated layer by thick impermeable barrier is available.
Other works by PHE
PHE is involved in arranging public utility facilities during Ganga Sagar Mela held every year in the month of January. Starting from arranging water supply and sanitation facilities in Outram Ghat in Kolkata, the responsibility of PHE Department spreads across all pit-stops on the way to the venue.
PHE has been entrusted with implementation of Ganga Action Plan (GAP) Phase-II Programme in four Municipal towns – Jiagani-Ajimganj, Katwa, Diamond Harbour and Murshidabad. 
A new initiative has been taken up for abatement of pollution in the river Mahananda through implementation of Mahananda Action Plan in Siliguri Municipal Corporation and Englishbajar Municipality.
PHE is involved in the maintenance of 91 Health Institutions across the State.
PHE has repeatedly taken up the challenge of providing drinking water to the victims of natural calamities like flood. The Department, equipped with Mobile Water Treatment Plant that can be used for onsite supply of drinking water avoiding transport of water from unaffected areas.  
The Public Health Engineering Dept. has been serving the people of the state in two ways. Firstly, it is providing them with proper pipelined drinking water supply, even in the remotest places. Secondly, in the arsenic-prone areas, PHE acts as a savior to the local people.  Maintaining proper inter-department coordination, PHE is acting fast in order to make the life of the people in rural Bengal better and safer.