Published: Wednesday 30 November 2005

Dead write

I read the story on Japanese encephalitis (Down To Earth, October 15, 2005) in the Eastern Uttar Pradesh; page by page, word by word as it showed the truth, the fallacies and the politics.

Just as you had witnessed, during my tenure too the district administration was in the mess while I headed a team that was dismally ill-equipped and hardly trained to handle the crisis.

We did whatever best possible could be. We did not let the people panic and affect other walks of public life. As a sensitive and focused reader, I must appreciate your approach by which you have covered the entire gamut of issues. I must honestly congratulate you on penning down an almost exhaustive, thought provoking but positive report on the malady.

Japanese encephalitis has been a quarter century-old menace to people in this area. But this time, I think, the outbreak has opened the eyes of all who are answerable to the public.

District magistrate

Quackery and quakes

It is rightly pointed out that there was a discrepancy in the measurement of intensity of earthquake by (Down To Earth, October 31, 2005). It is quite appalling the way earthquakes are measured and monitored by the Indian Meteorological Department where meteorologists dominate and seismologists occupy insignificant positions. India has experienced numerous earthquake of severe intensity in the past. The Vulnerability Atlas of India shows that all eight states in northeast India, parts of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and the Kutch region of Gujarat states are sitting on the bed of earthquake-prone areas. Therefore India needs a network of gps- based (Global positioning system) seismological observatories. As the article points out India should join Incorporated Research Institution for Seismology, Washington without delay. It is heartening to know that the Department of Science and Technology has established an Earthquake Evaluation Research Center (eerc) at New Delhi. eerc should now be entrusted the specialised assignment of manning most of the 212 seismological observatories and networking them for compilation of earthquake data.


A dream ?

As the article rightly said (Down To Earth, October 15, 2005) that river-linking scheme is like the Emperor's New Clothes. To link the Ken and Betwa rivers, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh governments, together, will spend Rs 30 crores to merely get the project report prepared. What a waste. Then they plan to spend Rs 4,000 crore to implement the project.

We can go in for such schemes provided there are no alternatives. But with Rs 4,000 crore we can treat 4 million hectares (ha) -- 1.2 percent of our total land area. Similarly with the amount that is required to link all the major rivers -- Rs 5,60,000 crore -- we can treat 500 million ha using watershed development methods.

We need to ensure that national water planning is entrusted to hydrologists. It is possible to banish drought if the government puts its mind to it.

Let's not the country's average annual rainfall is 1,170 mm. So, if activities like rainwater harvesting are initiated on a large-scale and the entire arable area is brought under watershed development, there is absolutely no necessity to link our major rivers and invite a major catastrophe.

135, Hanuman Nagar, Stage-II

Cooperatise the forests

Look at bamboo and paper mills in states besides the northeast that the story, "Mautak will flower", mentions (Down To Earth, October 31, 2005). Since 1990s, the paper mills in Andhra Pradesh switched over to farm plantations from bamboo. As a result lakh of tribals working in bamboo extraction lost their livelihoods. Way back in 1987 in an address in Administrative Staff College of India in Hyderabad, B D Sarma suggested to entrust bamboo extraction to tribal families linking them to the paper mills and other consumers of bamboo. He proposed that the tribal become shareholders in the wood and bamboo industry. He cited the example of sugarcane grower cooperatives managing sugar factories, particularly in Maharashtra.

Government should enable the tribals and forest dwellers to sustainably harvest the growing stock of our forest and involve them as partner in the progress.

China has done so. Interestingly late Vinoo Kaley in the book ' Bamboo in Dandakaranya' stated, "India is the only country in the world that uses bamboo as a feedstock for paper manufacture on a massive scale. China is also a 'bamboo country' with extensive bamboo cultivation, but it uses only 10 per cent of its bamboo for paper manufacture whereas India apportions over 2/3 of its extraction for this use." We should learn from the way China manages its resources.


No hearing here

The story on Environmental Impact Assessment (Down To Earth, September 15) reminded me of the time I witnessed the public hearing of Mali Parbat Bauxite mining project of Semiliguda block of Koraput district in Orissa, where hindalco Industries Ltd were seeking environmental clearance for 6 lakh tonnes of bauxite mining per annum from 268.11 ha in Khudi, Pakjhola and Potangi tehsil of Koraput district.

I was in the district and began searching whether the executive summary report is available at the designated place or not. Most of the designated offices were not aware about any such notification. Some officials claimed they did not deal with such matters while others clarified that they did not have any instruction from the state pollution control board.

In such a complicated and lethargic official system I tried for several days to get an environmental impact assessment report from the Koraput district magistrate's office, but all my efforts were in vain. When I contacted another designated office for the report-- the Block office -- the senior officials again were clueless, though one assistant project director did assure me that within a week I would hear about it.

Even at the nalco division in the district magistrate's office declined to share the Executive Summary Report claiming it was not available.I then emailed a letter to the member secretary of the state pollution control board but the email bounced back. I have hit a dead end. How long will it take for an average citizen to be given the right to information? Why is there is such utter lack of co-ordination among various government agencies? Will anyone answer?


Hearing, only in name

The story, 'Discontent' (Down To Earth, September 15, 2005) shows several lacunae in the way public hearings are being conducted all over India. eia was introduced with the purpose of identifying and evaluating the potential beneficial and adverse impacts of developmental projects on environment taking in to account environmental, social, cultural and aesthetic considerations.

In the last eleven years, there have been twelve amendments to the process. Some of these have had far reaching implications for people and environment. A number of projects with significant environment or social impacts have been excluded from mandatory public hearing process.

The recommendations of the public hearing panel are only advisory and are not taken seriously while granting clearance to projects. Moreover, the eia reports contain false or inadequate information. Their conclusion is inconsistent with the information and data, resulting in biased outcomes.

There seems to be little political will to uphold the principles behind the environmental impact assessment notification or even the clauses of the notification. This is clear from the fact that through the ministry of environment and forests has the powers to reject a project if it violates the notification; it has not done so in several cases those were brought to its notice by ngo s and community groups.

The thirteenth amendment in the eia notification, made in July 2005 says that any expansion or modernisation project of selective character -- nuclear, river valley, river valley ports and harbors, thermal power plant and mining projects -- may obtain temporary permission up to a maximum of two years till it gets environmental condition. The thirteenth amendment is in name of public interest, but in reality it will only benefit large-scale government projects.


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Pick of the Postbag

Losing the scent
The article on Kalanamak was excellent (Down To Earth, September 15, 2005) There is an exceptionally high quality of basmati rice called the Tapovan Basmati, once cultivated in a particular village, Tapovan, Uttarnachal. I had earlier reported that it is at the verge of extinction. Only a couple of days back I visited Tapovan village and was shocked to learn that this variety is now extinct. We could not find a single grain. The village is close to Rishikesh, and almost all land here been sold to settlers. Few fields that are being cultivated this year are under high yielding non-scented rice varieties. Fortunately we have with us few gemplasm of this variety collected six years ago from that village.

In India we talk a lot but do practically do little to save our diversity.



Asocial deforestation
Following the recent Judgment of the Madras High Court on encroachment, the officials are preparing to undertake a large-scale cutting of around 200 trees in Sentha mangalam panchayat of Vadipatti Taluk of Madurai District, Tamil Nadu.

A number of economically deprived people are taking care of these trees. Some local people have taken selective trees on lease and pay their dues regularly. But now they have been told that the trees are to be cut. This is absolutely against the spirit of social forestry and the forest policy of our government. The district administration has been informed about this but to no avail.


L C Jain asks, is there some data on

Shrinking forest cover -- any numbers on it? How much area lost over what period?

The frequency of fires has apparently increased with time -- any records of recorded fires over last 100-30 years?

Lantana is one of the 100 worst invasive species -- which one or two species are on top of this list

Which regions of India are lantana prolific and are likely to be vulnerable to forest fires in the coming years?

Any estimates of loss of life, animals, forest area/wealth due to forest fires in the past decade?

Any information on our state of 'preparedness' to combat forest fires? Is any particular agency in-charge at the national or state level? Which state is best prepared?

Has any compensation been paid for loss of life, cattle, or forest wealth due to forest fires in the past decade?

What is the recorded worst forest fire in India and rest of the world?


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