Himachal HC reserves order on jaundice outbreak

Shimla, Feb 23 (IANS) The Himachal Pradesh High Court on Tuesday reserved its order in a case of supply of contaminated water causing an outbreak of jaundice here.

The court also directed the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh to submit by Wednesday a list of patients hailing from Himachal Pradesh who died there due to the water-borne disease.

A division bench, comprising Chief Justice Mansoor Ahmad Mir and Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan and which treated media reports regarding supply of contaminated water in this city as a public interest litigation, passed the order.

It was reported in the media that Ashwani Khud water treatment station, which supplies water to one-third of Shimla’s population, is highly contaminated.

The media report said sewage mixed with the drinking water was being supplied to the residents, which has resulted in an epidemic-like situation here.

The special investigating team, constituted by the state to investigate the jaundice outbreak, informed the court that the water supply scheme at Ashwani Khud was managed by class IV employees and senior officers never visited the site.

It blamed the contractors hired to operate the water treatment plant for flow of untreated sewage into Ashwani Khud.

Advocates appearing as amici curiae blamed the irrigation and public health department head for the negligence and sought action against him.

“Because of the apathy on the part of the authorities concerned, the people of Shimla town do not have access to clean drinking water and are falling prey to many water-borne diseases,” observed the court.

Expressing concern over the large-scale outbreak of jaundice, Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda on Sunday sanctioned funds to conduct a study to prevent recurrence of the disease.

Asking the state to take necessary steps to handle the situation, Nadda said Rs.70 lakh has been sanctioned by the health ministry to the Indian Council of Medical Research to conduct a study so that recurrence of this nature can be avoided.

Official sources told IANS that more than 1,500 cases of jaundice, including patients among senior government officials, have been reported in Shimla and 11 people lost their lives due to the disease.

Most of the jaundice cases have been reported from Chhota Shimla, Panthaghati, Vikas Nagar, New Shimla and Kasumpti, a health officer said.

In 2007, 2010 and 2013, a large number people in the city tested positive for Hepatitis E, a liver problem caused by consumption of water contaminated by sewage.

Unscientific disposal of sewage and solid waste is threatening the pristine environment and water sources of Shimla, an official told IANS.

Quoting last year’s observations of the Comptroller and Auditor General that highlights the inadequacies of the Shimla Municipal Corporation, he said just 13 percent of the sewage generated in Shimla is treated and the rest is left in the open — despite Rs.74 crore ($12 million) being spent for installing six treatment plants.

Planned for a maximum population of 16,000, Shimla is home to 170,000 people as per the 2011 census and generates 30.09 million litres of sewage per day.

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