From mortal dengue to diarrhoea, albeit far less fatal, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation has been inadequate in its response to a critical issue of public health. With an estimated 2,000 patients admitted to the two infectious diseases hospitals in the city, the civic body is yet to come to grips with the fundamental problem ~ water contamination in several parts of the city. It is cause for alarm too if, as a report in this newspaper indicates, the residents of Jadavpur and Santoshpur ~ two of the acutely affected areas ~ have detected insects floating in drinking water supplied by the corporation.

The response has been tentative at best. After close to a week, the KMC is still “considering the possibility of leakage in the pipelines”. Considering also the time that has lapsed before arriving at this as yet uncertain conclusion, the leakage ought to have been fixed by now. It is hard not to wonder if the fundamentals have been ignored. The situation may be more dangerous than what the City Fathers at the red-brick building on SN Banerjee Road imagine. There has been more of tinkering and speculation and little by way of action over the past few days. In yet another instance of inordinate delay, the water samples were sent to the School of Tropical Medicine only on Tuesday.

In the moment of crisis, there has been a measure of passing the buck too. The Mayor-in-Council (health), Mr Atin Ghosh, could have spared the afflicted the knowledge that “Kolkata is an unplanned city. There are several networks beneath the road ~ public utility services, such as electricity, telephone, gas and sewerage”. There is a disconnect too between the assessment of the KMC and the specialised take of the Director of Health Services (DHS), who has categorically asserted that “contamination of water is behind the diarrhoea outbreak”.

The outbreak ought logically cease to be a matter of discourse within the government, specifically between the elected representatives of the Mayor-in-Council and the state’s health department. The assessment of the DHS lends no scope for dumbing down. Apart from identifying and plugging leaks with urgent despatch, the services of the School of Tropical Medicine should have been requisitioned with the first sign of the outbreak. Sad to reflect, neither of the two infectious diseases hospitals are adequately equipped.

Life’s essential is under threat; so too is public health with hundreds languishing on hospital beds, if not on the floor. The civic body is still scrambling around for an effective response, and Mayor Sovan Chatterjee’s appeal to citizens “not to press the panic button yet” will cut little ice with those affected. The nub of the matter must be that there are cogent reasons for the panic. And the KMC must bestir itself and be effective.