The report “Kolkata is at risk of arsenic poisoning” (Mint, 19 April) highlights a serious issue. Even if arsenic is detected, the remedy is an expensive water treatment plant. There is a connection between arsenic levels and the presence of sulphate ions in water. This is because sulphate reducing bacteria in water reduce sulphate to sulphite, which precipitates arsenic, removing it from water. When sulphate runs out, the arsenic level rises. Researchers in the November 2004 issue of Geology have suggested that testing water for sulphate indicates safety levels and arsenic- contaminated water could be treated by using inexpensive sulphate salts.
It’s now been 30 years since arsenic poisoning in the Gangetic delta, especially in West?Bengal,?was noticed. History thereafter reveals a lack of adequate attention on the part of the authorities concerned at all levels.
The problem in West Bengal is serious and widespread. The level of arsenic is reportedly 2,000 parts per billion (ppb)—40 times more than the 50ppb level in the region in general and 200 times more than the generally accepted safe level of 10ppb. We, therefore, have a long way to go.
It is not enough for the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) to show anxiety to the problem admitting that it is grim. It should realize that public interest cannot be used as a ground for environmental damage.
There is need for a comprehensive plan, setting out the immediate, medium- term and long-term measures. The state government should report to the people through the mandatory annual reports of the department on the work done in the year, and the assembly should debate them and satisfy itself that the government has performed adequately in the matter. However, it’s doubtful if our Parliament or the West Bengal assembly has ever taken up the issue. Why go that far? How many times in the past have KMC councillors taken up this issue in the corporation?
What is needed is not “massive changes in the mindset of the people”, but a change of mindset of those at the helm of affairs at KMC, West Bengal and the Union government.
I am glad that Banker’s Trust (Mint, 21 April) dealt with the Banking Ombudsman Annual Report, which was released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Some of the cases given by RBI as also reported by you are real eye-openers.
Most private banks take customer service for granted and they do not have robust systems and procedures in place. The case of depositing cheques in drop boxes is the most dangerous one adopted by private banks and now also by most nationalized banks. Most of the banks refuse to give acknowledgement even when asked for. Some banks, such as Bank of India, ask customers to stamp the receipts themselves, so that saves them the bother. In the guise of saving costs, banks have adopted these absurd practices which are detrimental to the customers. Affixing stamps on bank slip books is not a very daunting or an onerous task that needs to be done away with. In most of the banks, this job was done by peons. So, I don’t understand what’s the bother or how much is the saving in costs. RBI should ask all banks to compulsorily give receipts on bank savings/current slips as the practice of drop boxes has dangerous consequences.
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