Supebeda lies about a 100 km south of the district headquarter of Gariaband on Chhattisgarh’s border with Odisha. A small village with about 1000-1200 residents, nothing differentiates Supebeda from the other densely forested villages around it.
Except for the fact that nearly everyone in the village suffers from kidney ailments and is listed in government records as a “renal patient”.
Between 60 and 100 people have lost their lives in the last eight years due to renal failure – 69 in the past two and a half years according to a report in TOI. After a former sarpanch lost his life to a kidney-related ailment on Monday, the village was once again pitchforked into local news – a stark reminder for Chhattisgarh’s chief minister Bhupesh Baghel of his unfulfilled promise of action to the villagers.
The village of Supebeda became an election issue prior to the assembly elections in Chhattisgarh in December last year. Around September 2017 more than two dozen deaths had been reported and the issue had dragged on, through the following summer, after the collector from Gariaband, Shruti Singh, failed miserably at saving lives despite the continuous flow of information and the place’s history.
After Singh was finally sacked in February 2018, the then chief minister Raman Singh tried to tackle the situation using hastily thought out repair methods that included installing a water filtration plant in the village. Baghel visited the village as the president of Chhattisgarh Congress and promised immediate action if voted into power. Ayushman Bharat scams and nasbandi deaths had exposed the dire health situation in Chhattisgarh.
However, there has been no improvement since Bhupesh Baghel was elected the chief minister.
Health minister T.S. Singhdeo made a customary visit to the village and made several promises before returning to other pressing matters. The promises included water access, a supply plant from the nearby Tel river and a ward in the Gariaband district hospital.
The filtration plant does not work, the water supply promise never materialised. Singhdeo offered a special Supebeda section in the renal department of the Medical College Hospital in the state capital for dialysis which remains unused. Patients say that, given their health, it is impossible for them to travel 250 km to the state capital to avail of the free dialysis thrice a week.
What is wrong in Supebeda?
The water and soil have been tested by the Agriculture College Raipur and Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi. The patients have also been examined by doctors from AIIMS Delhi. A very high quantity of dissolved metals may be one of the reasons for the ailments, even though that may not be the sole cause.
It was discovered that the quantity of chromium, zinc and cadmium was higher than normal in both the water as well as the soil. The water and soil have also been tested for fluoride and the filtration plant in the village was meant to distil fluoride. Villagers have, however, found that to be of no use.
One village elder, Ahilya Netam, died in January this year and former sarpanch Purandhar Purena’s death now has put the focus back on not only the continued mystery of kidney ailments but also to the question as to why the government cannot approach the issue in a different manner.
So far nobody has suggested that the entire village be resettled or relocated. “When we can do that for lions and tigers we can certainly do that for our tribal population,” said a doctor in the Gariaband district hospital.
There may be issues like compensation of agricultural land and the ritual problems of uprooting people from familiar cultural surroundings but such considerations should be secondary to the loss of human lives. No one has gotten married in the villager in recent memory. If they are not moved, in a few years, there will be no trace of the village left.