Arsenic and fluoride in groundwater: NGT issues notices to 24 states, four UTs

The National Green Tribunal has issued notices to 24 states and four Union Territories in a matter regarding the presence of arsenic and fluoride in groundwater.

The green panel observed that the presence of these metals or chemicals are “very serious” and requires “urgent preventive and protective steps”.

The panel was hearing a matter in which it had taken suo motu (on its own) cognisance of a media report that highlighted the presence of arsenic and fluoride beyond permissible limits in groundwater in some pockets of various states and Union Territories.

The report stated that arsenic was detected in groundwater in parts of 230 districts across 25 states while fluoride was found in some pockets of 469 districts in 27 states, the tribunal noted in a recent order.

A bench of Judicial Member Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Expert Member A Senthil Vel said the Central Ground Water Authority had submitted a report in which it admitted the presence of arsenic and fluoride in the districts and the states.

“It is also admitted that both the chemicals or metals have very serious toxic effects on the human body and health and cause health hazards,” the bench said.

It said the Central Ground Water Authority, responsible for regulating groundwater, did not take any independent steps on the grounds that water is a state subject.

But its contention had been rejected by a 1997 Supreme Court verdict and a 2022 tribunal order, the bench said.

“We are surprised that after such a long time, even today, the CGWA (Central Ground Water Authority) has the audacity of shirking away from its own statutory responsibility and obligations and taking such flimsy grounds which have already been rejected by the apex court itself,” it said.

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“The issue raised in the present matter with regard to the presence of arsenic and fluoride in groundwater in such a large number of states and districts is very serious and requires urgent preventive and protective steps by all authorities concerned,” the tribunal added.

The tribunal made parties or respondents in the matter 28 states and Union Territories along with the Central Ground Water Authority and the Union Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change.

“Let notices be issued to all the above respondents,” the bench said, seeking their response within a month.

The states to which notices were issued are Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Meghalaya and Nagaland.

Notices were also issued to the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Delhi and Puducherry.

The matter has been listed for further proceedings on February 15.

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