With the death of a 48-year-old man on Friday, the number of people who died after drinking contaminated water in Karnataka’s Raishore has risen to five. Officials said that several wards in the city are receiving untreated water and that the filtration unit has not been cleaned or maintained in the past five years. Moreover, the automated filtration unit installed in 2018.
The man who died on Friday is Janakaraj, a guest lecturer at the Government College of Engineering. He was unmarried and was taking care of his ailing 65-year-old mother.
Speaking to The Indian Express, his sister Mahalakshmi said: “We left for Bengaluru last Friday as my son was taking his UPSC exam. When we came back on Monday, my brother had already been admitted to a hospital fighting for his life. He complained last Saturday after he had breakfast, of vomiting and diarrhea. It lasted for more than 24 hours, after which he was accepted… and so far, we get brown water and boil it before we use it.”
It was in the last week of May when many residents started getting sick from the polluted water. Several people were admitted to the city’s hospitals, including the Reichshor Institute of Medical Sciences, after complaining of vomiting and diarrhoea.
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Officials said 14 of the city’s 35 wards were receiving water from the Tungabhadra River through the Rampur reservoir without treatment. These suites accommodate about 1.5 thousand people. Sources said that the stocks of bleach and alum needed to treat the water ran out and it was not purchased later until after people started dying from drinking contaminated water.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Raichur City Council (CMC) Commissioner K Gurulingappa admitted that the water purification unit had not been cleaned or maintained over the past five years, leading to pollution. He said that a junior engineer and an assistant executive engineer, who were responsible for purifying the water before it was delivered to the public, were stopped.
Gurlingappa said he only took charge on May 18, and was unaware of the treatment unit’s lack of maintenance.
An official said that while residents have been supplied with untreated water for a while, the latest wave of illnesses and deaths may have come after water was consumed from polluted canals.
“We are now using the new WTP (Water Treatment Plant) with permission, but we have not formally taken it into our control,” Gurlingappa said.
The automated WTP installed in 2018 has not been in use amid a round trip for the past four years between CMC and Karnataka Urban Supply and Draining Board (KUWSDB) in respect of repair work of Rs 58 lakh.
In 2018, KUWSDB wrote a letter stating that construction of the water treatment plant had been completed and asking CMC to take over the plant and carry out further maintenance. It was only in 2020 that CMC sent a letter to the board of directors saying that it would not take over the management of the plant until more repair work was completed. For this, KUWSDB gave an estimate of Rs 58 lakh and despite further contacts between the two bodies, no conclusion was reached.
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It was not immediately possible to obtain a comment from the head of the Communications Authority, Al-Raishur Lalitha Kadgol.
Jayana, a board member from Ashpur (Wing No. 2), said the case was well known. “… After only nearly 21 months the CMC wrote a letter to KUWSDB, a significant delay. Until then, KUWSDB was given an option to pay Rs 58 thousand to process the objections raised, but the Mobile Communications Authority failed to pay. In February, these affected The issue is in the council, but no one bothered to address it.”
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavraj Bhumi said an investigation was underway into the deaths. Two of those responsible have already been suspended from work. Water samples from all wings are examined and investigation is underway. “Criminal cases will be registered if necessary,” he said.
The Raishore area has a history of contaminated water that leads to disease. In a recent study conducted by the Ministry of Jal Shakti, the water in 25 villages in Raishur district was found to be contaminated with arsenic. People in this drought-stricken area also depend on tap water.