Published: Wednesday 31 March 2004

Pick of the post bag

Of course polio can be countered
The article 'On weak footing' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 18, February 15, 2004) rightly captured the daunting task of polio eradication in the world. With the wild virus gone, the oral poliovirus vaccine (opv) itself will be a potential source of polio through vaccine-derived polio (vdp) and vaccine-associated polio (vap) viruses.

Genetic analysis has proved that like other viruses, the thin strands of the poliovirus present in opv, after ingestion, multiply in the human intestine with the generation of many mutants -- some of which exhibit characteristics which may resemble the neurovirulence of wild polioviruses. Maybe 30 per cent or more of immunised subjects excrete vdp viruses, which target the intestines and spread readily to non-immune subjects who come in contact with primary vaccinees.

Outbreak of vdp virus has occurred in Central America, Egypt, Madagascar and Romania. In India alone, the incidence of vap was 181 in 1999, which is seven out of a million children born, making it one of the highest in the world.

To counter this, we need to replace opv (Sabin vaccine) with the inactivated poliovirus vaccine (ipv, Salk vaccine). ipv is expensive since the demand far outstrips the supply. Vaccine manufactures should explore options of developing low cost ipv to make the world polio free.


Do science a favour

It is hard to comprehend why pesticides in water should be made an issue. As a foreign matter and a hazardous contaminant, its presence in water makes it available to every person. The material safety data of every pesticide listed in water will state the level of toxicity even at its lowest dosage.

The effects of the 'clean the bottled water' campaign would be felt in another multinational industry -- the pesticide industry. Persistent chemicals long banished in the West still find its way into the Indian market.

That a little bit of toxin is traded for a little bit of nutrient in the food, doesn't hold any water. Even if a person is fit and has a regular intake of nutrients, a few molecules of a toxicant can interfere with the metabolism of the person. And most often these toxins are absorbed into the body very readily.

There is no logic in having a varying safety standard for India as against the us or the eu norms. Toxicity in one country should be valid enough in any other. The only varying factor could be geographical location, which determines levels of chemicals in the area. Otherwise the whole process would become tedious for manufacturers, prompting them to follow unethical links.

Democracy, as you rightly say, is the only plausible solution. A political party which makes amends, would surely win the applause of the public and secure their vote bank in the next elections.

By medically monitoring volunteers who glug these bottled drinks, the reality of the two-sided story would be in the fore. If the bodily intakes of the volunteers can be regulated for over two to three years, the scientific world would also largely benefit from the study.


Your editorial and articles on the presence of pesticide residues in colas has seconded your stand on showing that democracy can work in public interest. But we must remember, the issue is of how pesticides actually exist in groundwater. For which it's not the companies that are to blame but the farmers who indiscriminately use pesticides on their crops. Then why should stringent laws be enforced on the food industry alone? It is rare that water is tested before supply in rural and urban areas. There is neither infrastructure nor skill to test water for pesticides. In such a case, shouldn't the government frame regulatory norms for drinking water as well?


More than the danger of pesticide in soft drinks, what eludes most people is that the water we drink everyday could be even worse. I agree with your stand that processed foods and beverages should have strict regulatory norms. But, our daily drinking water could have more harmful chemicals than a can of cola. Regulations are essential in pesticide usage in agriculture. Industrial wastes do seep into groundwater, so we need to ensure that untreated water does not drain into our drinking water. We need to step up our laws and adopt global standards for our industries. Our farmers need to know that high concentrations of pesticides for the crop may not really have an effect on the pests. So, ultimately, it is the common man at the receiving end who consumes the product. The government has to adopt norms to safeguard all areas of environment and public health, while we need to keep abreast of the happenings.

Ashok Vihar, New Delhi...

Another lapse

Similar to the cola issue is the case of arsenic contamination in groundwater in parts of West Bengal and Bihar. The government has set the standard at 50 microgrammes/litre for arsenic in water, as the maximum limit for human consumption while the international standard is just 10 microgrammes/litre. In a country like ours where people drink water more than people in colder countries, the standard should be more stringent.


Law, a paper tiger

The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000, framed under the Environment Protection Act, 1986 seems to have no effect in most parts of the country. Police in Maharastra and West Bengal may have come down upon violators, but in Delhi, the capital of the country, the police have called it quits. This despite the 45 noise pollution detection devices, each costing Rs 1.66 lakh, that they have been provided.

Why is implementation of noise pollution control laws so sluggish? I believe it could be because the police have more oppressing duties -- such as dealing with frauds, murder, kidnaps, thefts or rape -- that noise pollution may not be priority at all. Moreover, ever since environment, poverty alleviation and trade-related matters require judicial intervention, it has made the task harder for the police to implement court orders. The lack of professional finesse in the department compounds the problem.

It's also possible that the laws are not implemented at religious and social functions, to avoid hurting the sentiments of the people. Basically, noise pollution is not a real threat in India. Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, a voluntary organisation working for noise pollution control, discovered that the age for average deafness in India has dropped to 50 years from 70 years.

Some technical ways to reduce noise pollution is to plant trees along main roads and railway tracks. Thick foliage between road dividers will also diffuse the noise. Vehicles should be provided special horns as per Commercial Motor Vehicle (Rules) 1998. Roads with high intensity traffic, carrying over 35,000 vehicles a day, must be made of asphalt as done in The Netherlands. Factory workers should be provided earmuffs. Through television, seminars and print media, the public should be educated. Airline companies should conform to noise regulations by using hush-kitted or new generation aircrafts.

Non-governmental organisations should initiate a people's movement about the risk noise pollution has on health. The government on their part could establish a professional 'environmental police' team to deal with pollution issues and protect environmental laws in the country.

Former Director, Central Statistical Organisation & U N Consultant
New Delhi

Create awareness

Apropos 'The meat you eat' article (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 6, August 15, 2003) we have learned that without comprehensive rules for prevention of abattoir waste, our natural resources have every chance of being polluted. Bio-hazardous waste can generate bacterial diseases.

We will soon pay for our ignorance, since neither health authorities nor political leaders seem to care about the future, in this regard. Slaughterhouses seem to flourish because of the export market demand for superior quality meat from India. The Poultry Association, too, is doing little to create awareness. On the contrary, they have been advertising their wares even when bird flu and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (sars) is in the air. Scientists and associated well wishers should conduct detailed studies on the kinds of waste that comes from these abattoirs and make the public aware of the serious diseases that could emerge from ignoring this hazard. Let funds not be an issue for creating awareness, since surely when organisations and individuals see a positive sign, one is sure to gain support.


Water, water everywhere...

Economising on water for agriculture can release ample water into industries and domestic circuits. The political interest in pricing irrigation water has deprived India of substantial revenue and has encouraged wastage. States in north India depend heavily on groundwater for irrigation. Over 80 per cent of India's usable water is devoted to irrigation alone. Discrete usage of water will release more water into the domestic and industrial area. The industrial front is compromised, where little is done about recycling water or preventing water pollution. Government norms may help this situation. Besides, saving water from agriculture will also help increase industrial output, giving job opportunities to the educated unemployed. The cause for concern is on the domestic front too, where sanitation is the most neglected area.


Wrong picture

As a botanist specialising in medicinal plants for over 25 years, I was impressed with the cover story 'It's a pogrom out there' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 19, February 29, 2004).

The reporter has put together a well-researched and exhaustive study. But a couple of minor errors could discount the credibility of the article, if not heeded to. On page 28, in the box item, the picture of Parthenium ie Congress grass has been wrongly mentioned as Eichhornia crassipes. While on page 32, the centre-spread picture is certainly not water hyacinth, as stated.


DOWN TO EARTH REPLIES: The error is regretted....

Nurturing Bhopal

We are all well aware of the effects methyl isocyanate or phosgene had on the people of Bhopal, yet we are oblivious to what hundreds of chemicals are doing to us everyday. It's sad that after 20 years of the tragedy, the people of India are still undervalued for their yearning for development and better life. Is it because of their perseverance and resilience that makes them more vulnerable to the hostile powers of neo-liberalism that puts profits ahead of life? Where has reasoning disappeared? The country and the world owe the Bhopal victims a cardinal explanation.



Diverting the Sutlej water in Punjab to the Thar desert has affected the residents of Fazilka, a small town near the Radcliffe line. This has been done to undoubtedly win over vote banks. The town situated along the banks of the freshwater horseshoe lake Badha has been receiving snow water as recharge from Sutlej. But the diversion has made the lake fluoride-ridden, with an increase in the total dissolved solids in groundwater. Birds from Siberia would come to this lake earlier. Once a breeding ground for fish, today the place is dry. We see encroachments on the riverbanks and the mafia sell the sand under the riverbed. And with the Sutlej truncated at Suleimanki Head Works by the Water Commission of the government of India, there's little hope for the people of Fazilka. Maybe a channel routed from the Bhakra main canal to the existing network of channels in South Punjab can fill the Badha lake with water every season. That is the town's only hope.

Fazilka, Punjab...

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.