It's been two decades and four Lok Sabha elections, but 50-year-old Sumariya Devi is yet to see politicians showing any interest in eradicating the curse of fluorosis that plagues her village in East Uttar Pradesh. A crippling disease caused due to the presence of excess fluoride in the ground water, it has left many among them with deformed teeth and bones.
When the 1,000-odd residents of Rohiniwa-Damar go out to vote as part of the last phase of the Lok Sabha elections on May 19, they aren't likely to be brimming with hope. The Sonbhadra Lok Sabha constituency - one of the poorest and least-developed in the country - has never amounted to much for the political class.
Although several villages in the area have been grappling with fluorosis for decades, the issue has hardly ever made it to political campaigns. According to the Uttar Pradesh government, 269 of Sonbhadra's 600 villages subsist on groundwater with higher-than-permissible fluoride levels - with the problem being especially severe in 150. As many as 10,000 villagers suffer from fluorosis, and several among them have been found to have severe deformities.
Sumariya Devi was already suffering from physical deformities when the Uttar Pradesh government identified Rohiniwa-Damar as the first fluoride-affected village in Sonbhadra over 19 years ago. Her 12-year-old daughter Muniya also met with the same fate as years passed, but nobody in the administration ever seemed to take more than a passing interest in their plight. "I had a lot of expectations from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, but not much has changed even under them," she said.
PM Modi refrained from touching upon the issue during the election season, but Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav did make a brief mention of the water problem in the area. "This is a government that cannot even ensure drinking water for its people. We had commissioned a RO (reverse-osmosis) plant here, but it is still under construction," he said.
Although steps were taken to address the fluorosis issue in the past, failure to follow through ensured that they came to naught. Officials say that fluoride-treatment units were installed on the 1,056 hand pumps across the 250-odd affected villages, but they have gone defunct in most areas due to lack of maintenance.
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