Published: Saturday 31 January 2004

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Elephantine problem
Since the first week of December 2003, stray herds of elephants have made life difficult for people in West Bengal's Malbazar subdivision, especially Batabani, Nauna and Metiali villages of Jalpaiguri. More than 15 persons were killed in the Jalpaiguri wildlife division during the following days. Owing to harvesting, elephant depredations go up during this time of the year, and they usually continue till February end. The herds attack paddy fields in search of food, paddy being one of their favourite food items. Sometimes they go on the rampage while trying to save their calves.

The human-animal conflict has increased over the years. The problem has assumed mammoth proportions after the closure of many tea gardens. This has left many people jobless, inducing them to destroy jungles -- the home of the elephants. Therefore they frequently raid human habitats. The human-animal conflict has also aggravated due to the continuous expansion of human habitats and tea plantations along the traditional routes of elephant migration.

The state forest department has tried to control the attacks by planting fodder grass (food for the elephants) within the forests. But this has not proved successful and thus the effectiveness of Project Elephant in this region is being questioned. Now, the forest department had decided to restore the ancient elephant corridors running through the forests, ravines and foothills of the region. The following corridors will be revived: Reti corridor along the Bhutan hills, the Chilapata-Buxa tiger reserve-Nimti corridor, and the Dhumchi-Tili-Lankapana-Bandapani corridor. The forest department is also trying to occupy 700 hectares of land between the Garumara, Khairkata and Diana forests, which would also act as a corridor for the elephants. But the success of this plan is uncertain. Local people may object to it, as the land needs to be acquired from them.

Malda, West Bengal...

What decided the fate of elections?

The election results of Madhya Pradesh (mp) and Rajasthan were disappointing. Digvijay Singh is a caring administrator and his efforts will bear fruit over time. The reforms he implemented at the local level are commendable and they have already impacted the human development index of mp. His failure could be attributed to the lack of a message that the electorate could bandy about. Maybe he needed to invest in a few showcase infrastructure projects to win. But he could not do too much because the Centre (central funds) is not with the Congress. Moreover, he is too 'Gandhian' and 'Jimmy Carterish', with his tendency to think small rather than big. India needs 'folks' with a big vision and with tangible goals. Maybe there is a balance missing and I hope that he does not take this retirement too seriously, as India needs honest, hard working people like him. Otherwise, the country will be left with shady people like Jogi, Judeo, Laloo, Badal and the corrupt bureaucracy! It is time for the silent majority to assert itself for the well-being of the community, state and the country.


The editorial 'Development is not a road' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 14, December 15, 2003) is an election campaign for Digvijay Singh's government. It is biased right from the onset. Education, health, roads and electricity are issues that can go hand in hand. There is no need to promote one at the cost of another. We need balanced development because roads and electricity are paths towards sustainable development.


It is rightly stated that development is different from just building roads and providing electricity to the villages ('Development is not a road', Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 14, December 15, 2003). Providing basic amenities to all citizens is necessary, but education and health are more important issues; therefore they should be tackled first. But unfortunately everyone has ignored these. Criteria for gauging development are metalled roads and good houses. It is an elite-sponsored development theory -- the nouveau riche are in dire need of roads for their vehicles, and electricity to power their TVs and other modern appliances. Poor people, on the other hand, cannot even pay their monthly electricity bills. For years we have developed India with different kind of infrastructures, but now time has come to develop India on 'intellectual basis'; for that the poor need to be provided with better education and healthcare.


The editorial 'Development is not a road' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 14, December 15, 2003) rightly portrays the present scenario. Economic policies, which take care of the Gurgoan mindset, while neglecting grassroots-level development, are the 'price' of civilisation, as the money class would describe. Gandhi and his advisor J C Kumarappa, on the other hand, highlighted an economic development model not based on the over-exploitation of natural resources.

The bottom line is that Digvijay Singh is at the losing end despite his progressive measures. But in the fight of the right against the wrong, the true worth of Digvijay and his kind of governance will be realised.


Plight of Aligarh

The series of articles on Aligarh, including 'tce cripples' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 5, July 31, 2003), have been appreciated both in the city as well as overseas. It is a must to highlight the unconcerned attitude of officials from the Central Pollution Control Board, who give a clean chit to hazardous industries. The residents of the city have suffered for years due to their reports. The city's environment is being degraded in other ways also -- pokhars (ponds) are being encroached by the mafia in connivance with the administration. Moreover, a residential area has been declared as an industrial zone.

Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh...

Poisonous sweetmeat in West Bengal

A news article, published in the Bartaman of December 1-2, 2003, will shock those who have a sweet tooth in West Bengal. As per the article, sweetmeats are being made of poisonous curdled milk. As per a report of the dairy department, very inferior quality of muratic acid is being used to prepare the milk. The acid is used for cleaning bathrooms and latrines. A certain percentage of the acid remains in the milk, even after it is cleaned. After entering the human body, it impacts health, says Utpal Roy Chowdhury, professor at the department of food technology and biochemical engineering, Jadavpur University. Exposure to muratic acid (of industrial grade) can result in ulcers, allergy, different types of stomach ailments and indigestion problems. The sweetmeat sellers have even admitted the same.

The curdled milk business is the lifeline of the rural areas of the state. Therefore, its contamination is a very sensitive issue for the state government. The news article is a proof of the lax attitude of the authorities. They should immediately stop the inhumane activity.

Kolkata, West Bengal...

Sundarbans in peril

Many anti-environment activities have been noticed recently in the Sundarbans. The number of government and private hotels in the core area of the forest has increased. Many areas of the forest are accessible through vehicles, powered by diesel. The diesel, smuggled from Bangladesh, is cheap and hence of worse quality than what is available in India. Moreover, the forest and tourism departments are using exotic plants to decorate their areas. Eucalyptus plants -- a roadside decoration -- has led to the erosion of six to nine inches of soil in the villages near to Sundarbans. Sahara India is soon going to establish a floating city in the core area of the forest; this will be the last nail in its coffin.

24 Parganas (North), West Bengal ...

Food for thought

The article 'Food for taught' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 13, November 30, 2003), analyses the school meal programme (smp) of Karnataka. It has partially touched upon the role of panchayats in the programme. Although welfare economists like Jean Dreze have complimented Karnataka for its Akshara Dasoha programme, the ground reality is different. The director of school education in Karnataka and the school education minister want to control smp by deciding the size of the vessel in which rice and dal are cooked, which vegetables are served, and how much salt and condiments are added! The Karnataka Panchayat Act of 1993 proclaims that panchayats have to promote nutrition programmes. But the state panchayats do not play a major role in managing smp. Even the cook is appointed by the sub-divisional officer of a district, with the panchayat secretary merely signing the appointment letter. Panchayats should be ultimately responsible for managing smp, so that cooking operations and school-level serving is done by the approved self help group.

Furthermore, even in Tamil Nadu, which has implemented smp for 20 years, there are no conclusive studies to establish the much-touted claim: eating in schools promotes learning. Hunger has nothing to do with learning; many poor children without adequate food can study better than well-fed kids if the teacher can make learning joyful through interesting pedagogy. School meals cannot substitute a good teacher for promoting good learning.

Bangalore, Karnataka...

Start conserving gene pool of cattle

Apropos 'Breed apart' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 14, December 15, 2003), the art and science of breeding animals were well understood by traditional breeders. Therefore, they could develop remarkable breeds. Now individuals, not directly associated with breeding activities, have started taking decisions without considering the historical associations between breeders and animals; therefore, crossbreeding programmes are bound to fail. In many developing countries, breeds imported from the western world have replaced the domestic unique breeds. This has led to an imbalance between humans, animals and natural resources. India has already lost its wealth of genetic resources in cattle. Domestic animals, which are well adapted to adverse climatic conditions and diseases, are gradually being replaced by crossbreeds whose productivity is mostly low. Crossbred animals have become a liability. It is a must to conserve the traditional livestock in a country like India, where farmers depend on the animals for most agricultural activities.

Nadia, West Bengal...

Green warrior

People like R K Palhan ('2 little innovations', Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 14, December 15, 2003) deserve recognition and awards for innovations, which help save water and fuel. Unfortunately, those who are supposed to promote such novelties always drag their feet in a bureaucratisation maze. There is no sense of urgency to adapt innovations. The reason is simple: they do not think it's their job to promote the products. This applies to any kind of wastage. Go to a rail yard and you will find pipes and taps leaking. When a railway official is informed about the sad state of affairs, he directs you to some other person. Thus, there is no commitment.

Unless every employee, whether in the government or private sector, feels that his/her involvement in saving resource is important, nothing much can be expected. There has to be a sea change in the mindset of the people. They should not only innovate, but should be quick to adapt ideas and suggestions given by others after duly acknowledging them.

Bangalore, Karnataka

The article '2 little innovations' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 14, December 15, 2003) is interesting. The method promoted by R K Palhan to conserve flush water, and save energy in a lpg cooker is quite realistic and indigenous. Hopefully, it will prove to be a touchstone local technology, which will be used by every household.


Pesticide dilemma

The article 'A refreshing Guide to food safety' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 15, December 31, 2003) is a thoroughly researched and lucidly presented eye-opener. Besides children, female population is highly vulnerable to pesticides. The hormone disrupters in the pesticides are known to adversely affect the reproductive health of women. Very high incidence of spontaneous abortions, stillbirths and congenital anomalies need to be investigated in the context of the fetotoxic, teratogenic and carcinogenic potential of pesticides. Moreover, estrogen disrupters indirectly sensitise the female organs to other carcinogens in the environment. Thyroid cancer, for instance, occurs more than 60-70 per cent of the females.


The citizens of India have a right to get clean products, as they pay hard-earned money to get them. The 'honourable courts' of the country have also taken note of this after reports about soft drink contamination have been published by New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment.

Unfortunately, the multinationals appear to have regained confidence of the public by pumping crores of rupees on advertisements. As a sovereign nation of one billion individuals we must fight to get healthy food products. The government should come forward to impose restrictions on adulterated food and set production standards.

Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh...

Hazardous cultivation

An article published in the Hindu of November 6, 2003, highlights the presence of very high levels of toxic heavy metals in leafy vegetables cultivated in the farms of Coimbatore, which are using untreated sewage water for irrigation. After being informed about the dangerous practice, the Coimbatore municipal corporation swung into action and destroyed the produce of one farm.

Bangalore, Karnataka...

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