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Politics of drought
This refers to the editorial, “Six sins that make drought invincible” (May 16-31, 2012). While travelling through Haryana and Punjab, I was delighted to see vast tracts of irrigated land and an intricate canal system. But if one travels through the interiors of Maharashtra, the situation is pathetic. There are dams but few canals. Water is stored mostly for the purpose of generating electricity rather than irrigation. Reservoirs have been built in Karjat tehsil of Thane district and Mokhada tehsil of Ahmednagar district meant for the residents of Mumbai. This result in drying of wells. Small wonder residents of the two tehsils have threatened to disrupt water supply to Mumbai. They have to walk miles to fetch water for themselves.
Lack of technical survey of groundwater across districts is another reason for inadequate utilisation of water. Red tape is encouraged, giving officials enough reasons not to take action. Although climate change and irregular rains have become a common phenomenon, they are often cited as excuses for water mismanagement.
Sensitising farmers about rainwater harvesting, recharging groundwater through controlled usage and liaison with the labour ministry to execute effective projects at the panchayat level may pave the way for better and efficient management of water resources.
No health hazard here
This is in response to the letter by Aruna Rodrigues (‘GM ignorance at its best’, June 16-30, 2012) reacting to my interview, “Stopping GM trials is anti-farmer” (May 1-15, 2012). Rodrigues has raised the issue of genetically modified (GM) rapeseed. It is good to compare GM rapeseed with GM mustard as both are sister crops—closely related with a common genome. She says, “GM mustard is tolerant to Bayer’s’ herbicide glufosinate, which is an environmental threat and a significant health hazard.” In 1995, all rapeseed grown in Canada, across 5.3 million hectares (ha), was non-GM. The total production then was 6.4 million tonnes. In 2010, 93 per cent of rapeseed either contained resistance to glufosinate or glyphosate. It was grown in 6.5 million ha with a total output of 11.9 million tonnes. The major reasons for increase in yield are herbicide resistance and hybrids. No health hazards have been reported till date. In India, herbicides will be used during biosafety trials for mustard hybrids. Since mustard does not need herbicides to control weeds, its use will be minimal.
Rodrigues claims that “Canada has lost its market in non-GM rapeseed”. Where does this non-GM market exist? In 2011, the US imported 2.3 million tonnes of rapeseed meal (a by-product of the processing of rapeseed for oil) from Canada, while China imported 0.6 million tonnes. Japan, a country which anti-GM activists adore, imported around 2.3 million tonnes of rapeseed. In 2002, rapeseed imports to Japan were only 1.5 million tonnes. Where is the loss of markets?
Read the full letter on www.downtoearth.org.in
Mine without mind
This refers to the cover story, “Sand slips” (April 16-30, 2012). West Bengal is geologically divided into two parts— south-western and east. Hard, crystalline rocks characterise the lithology of south-western Bengal. The regions’ rivers, Damodar and Ajay, are full of sillica sands. Eastern Bengal comprises soft rocks like clay, shale and sandstone, and so its rivers, Hooghly and Ichamati, lack sand. Most of the cities in Bengal are in the eastern side. Due to increasing construction projects in these cities, illegal sand mining in South-western Bengal has become rampant. Huge amounts of sand is also used for stowing—a process in underground coal mining in which sand is used to fill the space that was occupied by coal before it was mined—in Raniganj and Asansol coalfield areas. Unscientific mining has resulted in river shifting, collapse of river banks and silting of rivers.
The issue of sand mining (both legal and illegal) does not pertain to Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra alone. Kerala has only seasonal rivers. During summers when the rivers become small rivulets, the sand mafia swings into action and carts away sand 10 times more than the permissible limit. A case in point is the river Bharatapuzha in central Kerala, which is supposed to provide drinking water to three districts. Uncontrolled mining of the river’s bed has played havoc on the fragile ecosystem of the river and its surrounding areas. The day is not far when our children will say rivers are providers of sand.
P P Premachandran
No refreshing breeze
This refers to the editorial, “Pollution: the great leveller” (May 1-15, 2012). When it comes to air-conditioned buildings, most people falsely believe that they escape pollution as soon as they enter them. Indoor pollution levels have been found to be five to 10 times higher than outside levels. The indoor air can be cleaned only by using expensive particulate and charcoal filter systems. The “tighter” the building, the higher is the indoor contamination. Buildings are often designed “tight” to conserve energy and to reduce running costs. The rationale is that heating or cooling outdoor air for using inside buildings requires more energy than recycling indoor air. This false economy of recycling air spreads diseases.
Airconditioning systems do not produce pure fresh air; they contaminate it. People often add their own viruses and bacteria to the air-conditioned air. Scientists have recorded that even a normal cough produces 5,000 droplets of liquid while a sneeze may generate a million. Various cases of measles in air-conditioned schools and sudden outbreak of flu among office workers have been reported worldwide.
Almost everyday I find people travelling in cars with air conditioners switched on even when there is no need. They think air conditioners purify the air. Those who do not use the car air conditioner pull up the glass panes in polluted stretches. In both the cases, people do not escape pollution. As far as controlling pollution is concerned, neither the government nor people are concerned. Recently, the pollution checking fee was enhanced to Rs 80 from Rs 45, making people more reluctant to get their cars checked. They know that if they are caught without the pollution check, they can easily get away by paying Rs 50 or so to the traffic police.
M A Haque
Give riverways a chance
Besides providing drinking and irrigation water, rivers offer energy-saving alternatives to transport systems (‘Grand distraction called river interlinking’, March 16-31, 2012). In a country like India, which has a tradition of long-distance and inter-city river transport, it is strange that the economic and positive environmental effects of investing in riverine transport have not garnered much attention. A barge provides the same carrying capacity as a fleet of trucks, but has a significantly lower fuel requirement and thereby pollutes less.
Why ban plastic bags only in Delhi?
June 5 was celebrated as World Environment Day. But what efforts have the government, citizens and the media made to save the environment? Production and use of plastic bags have long been banned in the national capital. The use of plastic covers to pack magazines, invitation cards and greeting cards has also been prohibited. But this measure has not been implemented effectively. Most magazines are still being sold in plastic bags so that nobody can see their contents. This way, I believe, a magazine loses its circulation as many prefer to browse through an issue before buying it.
Most importantly, the ban on plastic bags should be throughout the country, not just in Delhi.