Wednesday, October 21, 2020
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Triumph in battle against fluoride

K. Ramachandra Murthy

Kudos to Telangana Government

The article, ‘Visham Peeda Virugudu,’ published in Namasthe Telangana on Saturday (19 September 2020) has made me happy. The people of Nalgonda District, Telangana people who aspired for public welfare and all the Telugu people had been waiting for this kind of good news for decades.

While people had been living horrible lives with skinny bodies, kidney problems and yellow teeth and babies born with twisted arms and legs with contraction of Fluorosis due to the presence of fluoride in drinking water, the humanists were sighing and blaming fate in despair.    

Dusharla Satyanarayana’s fight

On 12 March 2003, Dusharla Satyanarayana, the head of Jala Sadhana Samithi, made Amsula Swami, a fluoride victim and who had become a poster boy of the fluoride problem in Nalgonda District, lie down on a bench in Parliament and shown him to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The scene moved the then prime minister. Satyanarayana is a Good Samaritan who resigned his bank job and dedicated his life to serving the victims of fluoride. Vajpayee’s eyes turned moist. Satyanarayana’s struggle continued.

The two great schemes taken up by Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) as the chief minister after Telangana state was formed were Mission Kakatiya and Mission Bhagiratha. Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao (KTR) headed Mission Bhagiratha. Another minister Harish Rao led Mission Kakatiya. We got liberated from the Fluorosis epidemic through Mission Bhagiratha.  Due to the implementation of the programme, the number of villages infected by the disease has reached zero. Chief Minister KCR and KTR have to be complimented for this.

Fluoride villages were 967 five years ago

Minister of State for Jal Shakti Rattan Lal Kataria on Friday declared in the Lok Sabha that the number of fluoride-affected villages in Telangana, which was 967 on 1 April 2015, turned zero by 1 August 2020.

Answering a question posed by Girish Balachandra Bapat, the Lok Sabha member from Pune, Kataria declared that the suffering had been ended. At the same time, the minister also announced that the number of fluoride-affected villages in Andhra Pradesh had been reduced from 402 to 111 villages. Minister KTR has also tweeted that the reason for no fluoride-affected villages in the state was Mission Bhagiratha.

KCR, who went to Marriguda as part of his campaign against fluoride, spent a night in the village. There, he saw the sufferings of the villagers and promised that he would supply safe drinking tap water after the formation of Telangana. He inaugurated the programme of supplying drinking water to the fluoride-affected regions under Mission Bhagiratha soon after he came to power. On 9 December 2014, he laid foundation stone for the construction of Bhagiratha pylon in Choutuppal. By 2017, the works of Mission Bhagiratha were completed. The tap water supply to every house started in the end of that year.

Problem came to light in 1937

The problem was first found in Darisi, a town in Prakasam District of Andhra region in Madras State. Dr. M.K. Dhahur, a scientist in the Nizam Government, identified the presence of fluoride in the underground water in Bathalapalli of Nalgonda District. Nizam constructed lakes in villages: Ibrahimpatnam, Pasunuru, Munugudu, Thangedupalli and Charlagudu. In 1985, it came to light that fluoride was present in larger quantities (28 ppm) than anywhere else in the world.

All the people who were living in Bathalapalli migrated to surrounding villages. It was identified that fluoride was present in vegetables and food items produced in Nalgonda District. Construction of a few reservoirs was taken up under Dindi lift irrigation project. Gottimukkala Reservoir was completed up to 80 per cent. Sivannagudem and Kistirampalli Reservoirs were completed up to 40 per cent. If the construction of these reservoirs was completed, then the underground water level would rise and the fluoride epidemic would end.

Water treatment plant with the capacity of 90 MLD was constructed with a cost of Rs 440 crore in Bathalapalli. The drinking tap water is being supplied from the plant to fluoride-affected villages in Nampalli, Chundur and Munugodu mandals. Before that, Krishna water was supplied to fluoride-affected regions since 2005. Only people who were able to make to the tanks got water.  

Government officials conduct tests on school students every year to find if anyone is affected. In 2014, 413 students were found to have fluoride above 1.5 ppm. In 2019, 94 students had it. At present, there is no student who had fluoride above the normal levels, Dr. Kondal Rao, the health officer in Nalgonda, said. The yellow teeth in people are also slowly disappearing, he added.

HMTV fluoride campaign

Several people had made efforts to eliminate the sufferings of people in fluoride-affected villages. Voluntary organisations also contributed their part in this. Among all these, the services done by Dusharla Satyanarayana were great. He used to get hundreds of nominations filed during elections. He made a lot of efforts to bring the issue to the notice of national-level leaders.

During the time when this writer was working as the chief editor in HMTV (2011), a mass movement was built to bring awareness about the spectre of fluoride in Nalgonda District. In the name of ‘Fluoride Eradication Fight Campaign,’ we did padayatra in fluoride-affected villages for 15 days to give hope to people and took up the programme to turn the issue into the direction of a movement.  

I, along with my friends used to spend the whole day bringing awareness among people and held public meetings in the evenings in villages. The campaign became a success with the help of Virahat Ali and Ashok, Nalgonda District reporter. Dusharla Satyanarayana and Amsula Swami, the fluoride victim, participated all through the campaign.

Telangana armed struggle leader Mallu Swarajyam, journalist association leader Srinivas Reddy inaugurated the programme by waving the green flag at Dindi of Devarakonda constituency on 27 May 2011. Gaddar spoke in the campaign. Cine actor, director, producer and songwriter R. Narayana Murthy participated as the chief guest and gave an inspirational speech.

Prominent doctor Rajareddy participated in the campaign. He is the intellectual who studied the fluoride issue scientifically. He gave speech at several national and international conferences on the problems of fluoride. Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh used his services in resolving the fluoride issues in the regions. He clearly explained to the people of Nalgonda District about the fluoride issue and ways to deal with it. Chukka Ramaiah, Mallepalli Laxmaiah, Vimalakka, Desapathi Srinivas, Dr. Boora Narsaiah Goud, the then Bhuvanagiri Lok Sadha member, and others participated in the programme.

Nadendla Manohar’s initiative

There was a discussion on the programme in AP Legislative Assembly. The then speaker, Nadendla Manohar, established Environment Protection Committee. The committee members travelled in the Assembly constituencies of Nagarjuna Sagar, Devarakonda and Munugodu for two days.

Speaker Manohar, Jana Reddy, other ministers and 20 MLAs held a meeting in Nagarjuna Sagar. KCR was also among them. In the meeting, they showed the programme conducted by HMTV. Arrangements were made for drinking water and nutritious food in the fluoride-affected villages with the resourcefulness of the speaker. The speaker ordered for water treatment plants.

A petition was filed in the High Court. The High Court questioned the government. It questioned why fluoride water was still being supplied to schools. As per the directions of the High Court, the government released Rs. 350 crore for the protection of students. In 18 fluoride-affected mandals, nutritious food, including eggs, sesame laddus had been supplied to students.  Prominent journalist leader K. Srinivas Reddy established water plant in his native village. Under the leadership of Speaker Manohar, the committee went to Araku and studied the living conditions of Adivasis. The then governor also travelled to fluoride-affected areas. The fluoride campaign helped in bringing the affected villages, victims and their problems to the notice of the rulers. This was one of the great programmes executed by HMTV.

Anjaiah’s mission

In fact, in 1980-81, the then chief minister Anjaiah took up the mission of permanently liberating people of Nalgonda from fluoride.

Anjaiah undertook the Srisailam Left Bank Canal project to supply drinking water to the fluoride victims of Munugodu and Devarakonda constituencies by filling the Dindi reservoir through underground canal. Up to 40 km of underground canal needed to be built starting from Yellampet near Srisailam Reservoir. Nakkalagandi Reservoir is under construction. More than 15 km of underground has been built so far. Anyways, engineers have told that a lot of time and resources would be needed for the construction. Still 20 to 25 km of underground has to be built.

After the formation of Telangana, KCR thought that building underground was a difficult task, and instead supplied water to Dindi Reservoir through Kalwakurti lift irrigation project. Overall, the Telangana government dispelled the fluoride problem and liberated the villages of Munugodu and Deverakonda constituencies and people of Nalgonda District.

Let us hope that the measures being taken up by the Andhra Pradesh government to find a permanent solution to the victims of fluoride in Prakasam District yields results soon.  

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