Published: Thursday 15 April 2004

Pick of the post bag

Time of reckoning: NIOH director replies to pesticide industry body allegations
This is in response to the letter written by CC Abraham of the Endosulphan Manufacturers and Formulators Welfare Association (emfwa) and published in (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 20, March 15, 2004) wherein he has levelled a number of allegations against the National Institute of Occupational Health (nioh).

In the past two years, many groups representing the pesticide industry have written to nioh, and also visited the institute. We have always answered all their queries. Therefore we do not understand why emfwa says nioh has not responded to them.

We would once again like to answer many of the so-called scientific objections made by Abraham, which they have been repeating at many fora, including the meeting of the expert committee (see also: LIES, DAMN LIES AND ENDOSULFAN).

Selection of Exposed and control areas: Before selecting the Meenja school children as controls, we had taken care of all the confounding variables which could affect the outcome of the study. In our paper published in Environmental Health Perspective (EHP; Dec.2003; 111: 1958-1962), we clearly mentioned the major difference between the two groups was presence or absence of aerial exposure to endosulfan. Our major concern was: what was sprayed on the cashew plantations, which covered a very large area of the hills in Padre village? We requested the Plantation Corporation of Kerala (pck) to give us information on all pesticides sprayed by them in the study area. On 20-08-2001, pck informed us that since 1980, they were aerially spraying endosulfan (0.1 per cent of 35 ec) twice a year almost every year. They did not mention any other pesticide. The major crop in the valley in the study area, and also in the control area, is areca nut and in both areas, the main pesticide used on areca nut was Bordeaux mixture (mixture of copper sulfate and lime). Besides this, there could be localized use of other pesticides on small family farms, but this was unlikely to cause widespread exposure; indeed, the effect of this localised exposure was likely to be nullified by their use in both areas.

Before starting our study, we were well aware of our study parameters of exposure and effect. The study was designed and executed by a team of experts, which included epidemiologists, pediatricians, statisticians, medical toxicologists, biochemists, analytical chemists and trained technicians with decades of experience in conducting research studies. During the field study, we took all precautions: the same doctors examined the study and control subjects; the same equipments and instruments were used. An expert group from nioh's Scientific Advisory Committee approved our study design.

Endosulfan exposures in the study area: We have repeatedly said that topography of the area played a major role in endosulfan exposures in the study area. Even before starting the field study, we had asked the Regional Remote Sensing Service Centre (rrssc), government of India, to provide us a quick analysis of the physiography of Padre village. As per their letter written 19-09-2001,

"Padre is located in the 1: 25,000 toposheet No. 48/p/2/SE Grid 01. The northwestern and southwestern part of the village has extensive cashew plantation at an altitude of 100-2000 metre above MSL. The first and second order streams are taking birth in these cashew plantatio.

Priced commodity

Apropos 'Why liquidate our future?' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 20, March 15, 2004), the editorial highlights the condition of groundwater as a community resource. We quickly need a policy from state governments on locating water-intensive industries. Any industry claiming more than the water carrying capacity of a region should necessarily need to take permission before being allowed to operate, and should be under local government jurisdiction, panchayat or nagarpalika. Industries should not be allowed in water-scarce areas.

Specially, industries such as paper, oil refineries, power plants, beer and soft drinks, -- which require volumes -- will need to be regulated in a country where the per capita availability is leading to a water-scarce or even water-stressed situation. Economic policies favouring investors and manufacturing industries should be closely integrated with water policies/water-intensive industry location policies.

Otherwise, we will face a paradoxical situation, like the beer industry shifting base to Rajasthan to take advantage of excise licensing policies. While the beer market boomed, water became more scarce in a state where it is anyway at a premium. Or, like what the Karnataka Industrial Area development board found: it drilled 1000 borewells, but only 188 supply water. This is water meant only for industries, and new industries are banned from drilling their own wells. Indeed, checking for sustainable water should be the first priority for any land use development.


The Kerala judgement on groundwater misuse is timely. There is an urgent need to legislate water rights in the country, for the times have changed. Earlier, water was drawn from dugwells and there was no threat of excessive withdrawals even when animal power was used. The water drawn out was generally less than that replenished. But today, the situation is alarming. Using high capacity pumps, a landowner can deplete groundwater of an area larger than his holding. This is commercialisation of water, meant for agriculture and drinking. The time is ripe for government to enact law to check landowners' unfettered right on groundwater.

The Central Ground Water Board, assisted by ground water organisations of states, undertakes periodic studies of groundwater and has authentic knowledge of its status in various parts of India. For an area classified as "safe", government must limit groundwater rights of individual land owners to the extent of water required to irrigate main crops. For instance, in north India a 30 centimetre depth of water is sufficient for irrigation, along with rains. So, for a landowner with one hectare of land, the volume of water pumped out should be restricted to 3000 cubic metres. For industries, the assessment can be done based on land area, excluding parts where groundwater cannot be recharged.

This approach is based on the principle of the natural right to cultivate land. For any additional need, the user must pay, even if he is drawing out water on his own land.


Callous calculations

The article 'Aging science' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 17, January 31, 2004) truly is a case of old wine in a tainted bottle. Even after 91 sessions, the Indian Science Congress has little to offer the scientific fraternity. The absence of premier scientific departments such as the Defence Research and Development Organisation, the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Department of Atomic Energy only proves the indifference of Indian scientists towards national issues. The Prime Minister's inaugural speech presented the true picture of 'bureaucratisation' of scientific institutes and the under-utilisation of research funds.

The reporter has rightly said that the Geological Survey of India (gsi) has seen eight ministers and twice the number of secretaries in the past four and half years. The Union ministry does not regard a geologist as a scientist, depriving this section of the flexible complementing system, available in other scientific departments. There is no scope for promotion for over two decades for a person who heads the gsi. But who cares?


Aim for the neutral

Apropos 'Joint Favourite' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 16, January 15, 2004), which describes homeopathy as a sure remedy for arthritis, one would need to take it with a pinch of salt.

In the report, there was a need to look critically at the Hyderabad-based Government Research Department's claim to reduce 88 per cent of the pain with just one dose of homeopathy medicines. With all their shortcomings, international pharmaceutical companies conduct thorough tests before authenticating any of their products. They are forced to conduct rigorous trials with pre-defined protocols and randomised control groups before claiming any therapeutic benefits. In your eagerness to promote alternative remedies, you seem to have overlooked the need for discernment in reportage, leading you to lower your usual high standards of scientific research. Most certainly, one should have a healthy scepticism towards all medical claims, regardless of the source, for an objective view.

Cambridge, UK...


This is in response to a reader's letter that appeared in your magazine (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 20, March 15, 2004) which enquired of termite control measures. Here are some suggestions that I know of:

You could ferment pieces of the banana stem in water or in its own juice. It's said that undiluted application of the fermented liquid is an effective method of termite control. But I must admit, I haven't tried it myself.

The other remedy is to use Effective Micro-organisms (em). This would require repeated applications of the activated em solution, diluted in water in a 1:10 or 25 ratio. In dry conditions, you would require more water, up to over 100 parts. Ensure that it is evenly spread for the microbes to be effective.

In Auroville, em was applied in the foundation and the walls of a house while construction happened in an extremely termite-infested area. Much to the dismay of the occupants, within three months of moving in, the termites were back. While it did work on two occasions when repeated em applications depleted the termite population in the area.

How does the em solution work? Microbes in the solution destroy the food supply or the fungal food growth in the burrows of the termites. The microbes hinder the fertility process in the termite queen, thus controlling the numbers. Although the em remedy originated in Japan, it is manufactured in India too. AuroAnnam at Auroville in Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu is a dealer and promoter of em.


Leaves of Samdera indica -- family Simaroubaceae (Karinjatt in Malayalam) can also check termite attacks. Leaves and twigs can be applied to the affected areas.



The ubiquitous Apis Dorsita, Honey Bee, is found in forests across the country. That's also why they are so easily the targets of honey and bee wax gatherers, who threaten the existence of these species. During the process of bee's wax extraction, the brood (queen, eggs, larva and pupa) and pollen is destroyed. Bee's wax has commercial and medicinal benefits. If over-exploited, these species will soon be endangered. The negative effects of this will surface on the agriculture and the horticulture front. Forest departments across the country should devise means by which there can be a judicious handling of the natural resource that the bees offer.

Himalayan Eco-Horticulture Society
Shimla Hills, Himachal Pradesh


I have learned that there is no such thing as 100 per cent paper in paper cups. These do have a poly vinyl chloride (pvc) coating, which is chemically inert up to a temperature of 70C. It would not be surprising, then, that when hot tea or coffee is poured into the cup, the pvc will react with the liquid. I wish to know: how poisonous the combination could possibly be?


Most colonies in Delhi opt for pest control measures to contain the menace of cockroaches. Considering that such pesticides are not safe, are there organic remedies for the same, like neem distills which are effective and safe?


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