220 kilometres from Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi, in Garhwa’s Pratapur village, 55-year-old Ram Patiya Devi’s family feels she is dying. They feel she will soon be the 37th, in a list of deaths in the village in the last decade, due to skeletal fluorosis, a disease caused by excessive fluoride in ground water that accumulates in bones and weakens them considerably.
Doctors say there is no cure for the disease and that purifying the water is the only way out.
The water in Pratappur has 7 times more fluoride that permissible limits and is the highest contamination for any area in Jharkhand.
For 3 years, Ram Patiya Devi has been bed ridden. The flouride in her bones has twisted and broken them and deformed her body.
“It’s because of the fluoride in the water. Everyone in my family is affected. Many have even died. I do not think the government has done anything concrete to help,” says Ganouri Ram, Ram Patiya Devi’s husband.
Pratappur has different hamlets – The Maunaha Tola, where Dalit families live is the worst affected with over 30 families in the grip of the disease. Only two out of 12 hand pumps in the area have fluoride filters. The first signs of skeletal fluorosis emerged in the village in 1998. The government’s first survey happened in 2000 and yet there is no end to the deaths.
“The situation is alarming in many parts of the panchayat. We have mapped out all the areas and we are installing fluoride filters in all hand pumps in the area. We also have a piped water supply but population expands every year and so an extension of the pipeline scheme is also in process,” says Neha Arora, Garhwa’s top government official.
A water filtration plant is also in the pipeline, but it is perhaps already too late for people like 52-year-old Jiwasiya Devi, bed ridden for 16 months, the bones in her leg, all cracked, like many others in Jharkhand’s village of death.