Several parts of the country are facing the problem of arsenic and heavy metals in groundwater, reveals the government data. Various scientific studies and groundwater quality monitoring throughout the country have revealed the occurrence of arsenic, and heavy metals beyond the BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) permissible limits in isolated pockets, the jal shakti ministry has informed the Rajya Sabha.

In various pockets of 209 districts in 25 states and UTs, arsenic level in groundwater is above the maximum permissible limit of 0.01 mg/litre. Notably, as per the World Health Organisation (WHO), the greatest threat to public health from arsenic originates from contaminated groundwater. Arsenic water used for drinking, food preparation and irrigation poses the greatest threat to public health, says the global health body.

Long-term exposure to arsenic from drinking water and food can cause "cancer and skin lesions". Other health problems associated with arsenic levels in drinking water are cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

As per the WHO, the provisional guideline value of arsenic groundwater is 10 μg/litre or 0.01 mg/litre. Similarly, parts of 491 districts in 29 states and UTs have iron levels above 1 mg/litre in groundwater, with the highest 58 pockets of UP, followed by MP at 47 and Bihar at 35. Lead above 0.01 mg/l is present in groundwater across parts of 176 districts in 21 states, says the ministry.

Cadmium, above 0.003 mg/l, has been found in parts of 29 districts in 11 states, while chromium, above 0.05 mg/l, has been found in pockets of 62 districts in 16 states of the country. The government data shows that 152 districts in 18 states have reported the presence of uranium above 0.03 mg/l level, shows the ministry data.

A high amount of iron, excess lead, cadmium, uranium, and chromium can cause diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. They can also affect the nervous system, kidneys, and intestines, and can cause cancer.

A total of 671 areas in the country have been affected by fluoride, 814 with arsenic, 14,049 with iron, 9,930 with salinity, 517 with nitrate and 111 with the presence of heavy metals.

High demand for drinking water

The data assumes significance at a time when the demand for water has multiplied due to the ever-increasing population and rapid changes in agriculture and industrial activities. The ministry data shows India's water requirement for different usages for 2025 and 2050 is 843 BCM (billion cubic meters) and 1,180 BCM, respectively.

Govt’s initiatives in arsenic-affected areas

The ministry says the government in partnership with states is implementing the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) since August 2019 to provide potable tap water to every rural household. The department of drinking water and sanitation's national water quality submission is working towards ensuring safe drinking water to 27,544 arsenic or fluoride-affected rural habitations in the country.

On rural household areas provided with safe and tap drinking water as on July 27, 2022, under Har Ghar Jal scheme, the ministry says 111 ‘Har Ghar Jal’ districts have been provided 100% tap connections. There are 74,450 ‘Har Ghar Jal’ gram panchayats that have provided 100% tap connections.

The Centre's Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) scheme supplements the efforts of states to provide safe and clean drinking water in urban areas. The ministry says the quality of groundwater can be improved to some extent if concerted efforts are made via appropriate groundwater recharge or rainwater harvesting.

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