Lakhimpur Kheri: Radhey Shyam Yadav, a resident of Lakhimpur Kheri village in Dharora, who is in his late 40s, has been bedridden for the last four years. He often faints and has severe gastric issues. He has not been diagnosed with any specific diseases but suspects that the cause of his ill health is contaminated water. A small-time farmer living in Dharora village, about 10 kilometres from the district head of Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, Radhe Shyam Yadav has been visiting the doctors for the last three years, and his condition has not improved a bit.
"It is all due to water. I have gas in my stomach, and the doctors treating me do not tell me what the disease is. Two years ago, the local doctor (quack) said I was suffering from a liver infection. Then I consulted the other doctor in the Lakhimpur Kheri district hospital, and there also, the diagnosis was inconclusive. I know it is due to the water," Radhe Shyam Yadav says.
The village with a population of about 800 is situated just beside a private sugar mill, and the villagers blame the mill for the contamination of water.
"The mill was set up here in 2006. Four years later, we started experiencing the impact on the groundwater due to the untreated water coming out from the sugar mill," Radhe Shyam Yadav says.
The NewsClick team was independently unable to verify the claims made by the villagers, and the telephone number given on the website of that private mill did not glean any response. However, the reporter saw dark yellow and reddish water coming out of the borewells. The villagers are forced to boil the water before consuming it.
Shiv Hare Yadav, another farmer from the village, has been suffering from a liver infection for the last two years. As per the local doctors, the cause of his condition is contaminated water that has more than the permissible limit of iron, arsenic, and other things. He has also developed some other health issues in the past two years.
"Whenever I go out to work in the field, I can hardly work. I have a continuous problem of gastritis. It has gotten so bad that I can't even eat now," Shiv Hare Yadav says.
It is pertinent to mention here that two villages– Narau and Milaal Nangla– in Shekhupur Assembly constituency in UP's Badaun district had boycotted voting in the second phase of the Assembly elections over contaminated water supply.
A study conducted in May 2019 reported by India Science Wire says that over 2.34 crore people in UP are exposed to high levels of arsenic in the groundwater spread across 40 districts, which also included Lakhimpur Kheri.
A significant chunk of the affected population lives in the state's rural areas with almost no facility for treating the water with a much higher arsenic level than the permissible limit. Few non-government organisations work in these areas, but the work needs to be done on the war front because it takes a toll on human lives.
Water expert Saurabh Singh, based in Varanasi and who has worked in the Lakhimpur Kheri area, says that the water table is already polluted due to various factors.
Sugar mills and distilleries dump their water without treating and violate the guidelines of the pollution control board, he says.
"According to the government's set standards, the sugar mills or the distilleries or any industrial unit should have water treatment plants, but these industries do not operate these plants as they want to save on the electricity bill. These problems are industrial disasters. These industries first extract a large amount every day from the earth and then they dump the water anywhere without treating it, which results in seepage of contaminated water in the ground," he says.
He further adds that this needs to be immediately checked because the problem of arsenic has been affecting a considerable chunk of the population across the state.
"People develop health issues like liver disease, gastro related issues, etc. The contamination also results in stillbirths and irregular menstruation cycles," Singh said.
The root of all these problems is the contractual system in these works, which is not done by the experts.
"The government needs to set up expert committees and work on it because the contractual process only uses the ARU plants which become dysfunctional within a year," he says.
NO BRIDE FOR THE VILLAGERS
Meanwhile, the villagers of Dharora have started facing another problem. People from other villages are refusing to marry into the village due to this issue.
Chote Lal Yadav, another farmer from the village, claims that the hamlet has over 20 men who could not get married because of the water problem.
"People do not want to get their daughters married in this village because of the water problem as they know the long term effects of the contaminated water."
"We have complained about this problem to the Gram Pradhan and the sugar mill- but no action has been taken on our complaints," he said.
Five calls made to the Gram Pradhan went unanswered.
The district is set to vote in the ongoing Assembly elections on February 23, in the fourth phase of elections in the state. Despite the problem persisting for the last few years, it has not yet become a poll issue as no party seems to have made it a part of their agenda, leaving the villagers hopeless in the face of a health hazard.