Published: Friday 30 April 2004

Pick of the post bag

Give the tribals their share
The article 'Phoney Pitch' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 20, March 15, 2004) exposes the loopholes and the facade behind the government's talk of the 'feel good' factor operating in the tribal belts of the country.

Long ago, the British connived to blanket large forest areas under reserved forests to strength their navy and commerce stronghold in the sub continent. This made the land out of bounds for tribals. Revolts ensued around these forest areas, and tribals in free India are still at the receiving end of this unfair treatment. The tribal revolt in Muthanga and other places speak for itself. The Forest Survey Of India (fsi), 1999 states that over 60 per cent of the country's forests occur in 187 tribal districts, which form 33 per cent of the geographical area.

The National Forest Policy (nfp), the Forest Conservation Act (fca), and other such laws need to be revised and reviewed. The nfp stipulates that 33 per cent of the land area should be under forests and many environmentalists also go by this figure, not realising that this figure has little credibility today. The figure is actually derived from a survey of the forests worldwide. This survey showed that forest area in north and south America was over 33 per cent. And in 1952, the nfp deduced that India should aim at this percentage to be in a progressive state! Five decades down, we still follow the same stricture.

The next question is what lands should be under forests? The Land Capability Classification (lcc) allots land to different sustainable uses, based on slope, soil and rainfall. According to lcc, land over 65 per cent slope should be under permanent vegetation or forests. This will release considerable land to tribals. However, these are degraded forest lands near villages. Foresters and conservationists should now think of quality instead of quantity.

The fca is a child of the '33 per cent forests syndrome' since forest area has been increased to this target, any diversion of forest area to non-forestry use should be compensated by transfer of equal area and funds provided for growing a forest on that land. The fsi report estimates extent of degraded open forest area will be over 20 million hectares, which would easily take over 50 years to afforest. These attempts besides making life for tribals miserable through delayed projects, increased costs, and bureaucratic politicking, is a warped legislation. It only aggravates the injustice on tribals ab initio at the reservation of forests. The act should be amended to provide for monetary compensation, two to three times the value of the land. These funds can be used for afforestation with the forest departments. The act should prohibit use of lands above 65 per cent slope for any purpose other than forest.

Using resources around settlements is done in urban areas. The same access should be given to tribals when large forest areas are made state property. Often they have to forego this natural right. Forests should be handed over to gram sabhas and tribals should have full rights over their use and the income that comes from it. Only then will these communities see prosperity, and there would exist a fine balance between ecology and equity.


Enforce stricter rules

On page 70 of the Down To Earth (Vol 12, No 19) supplement (No 4, February 29, 2004) on Industry, river-stretches across the country have been mapped based on the industrial pollution in their respective areas.

The map indicates 'North Arcot' in Tamil Nadu. Today, there is no such place anywhere in Tamil Nadu. The map also mentioned Vellore. Vellore, Vaniambadi, Ambur, Ranipet and other places which are leading export zones in India. Actually, these places were earlier in North Arcot, Ambedkar district, which today is known as Vellore district. They have hundreds of tanneries that pollute the Palar river, cause ecological degradation and health hazards. So the map should have mentioned 'leather' among other industries.

The Directorate General of Technological Development (a government of India undertaking) constituted a committee for setting up a Common Effluent Treatment Plant (cetp) for the Indian tanning industry. Its March 1996 fiscal plan observed that the industry consumes 35 litres of chloride free water for one kilogram of leather. One can only imagine the quantity of water used for processing leather!

In 2000, the India Water Partnership for Human Development, New Delhi, identified fertilisers, refineries, pulp and paper, leather, sugar, distilleries, chemicals, iron and steel and metal plating as the main water polluting industries.

Quite outrageously, these industries were allowed to use potable water after paying the compensation under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977, amended in 2003. This allowance is highly misused. There should be strict enforcement of the rule and polluting industries should be closed.

Vellore, Tamil Nadu...

Ground reality

As mentioned in your editorial 'Why liquidate our future' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 20, March 15, 2004) the High Court ruling should hopefully act as a catalyst for developing a meaningful National groundwater policy.

Regulation of groundwater is long pending. The government cannot ignore this issue. Do we have to wait till millions suffer before we act? Groundwater depletion and pollution are future catastrophes that can be avoided. Its vital to make people aware that groundwater, a national resource has to be protected.


Have a people-centric strategy

Just to add a new perspective to 'The land caves in' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 20, March 15, 2004), I wish to write about the ravines in the Chambal basin, Madhya Pradesh which are the worst form of soil erosion. Efforts of the state and central departments to control erosion and reclaim ravines have yielded very little results.

A method of saving agricultural fields from ingress of the ravines would involve retarding the headward erosion into the tableland. This will lead to zero soil loss, thus nipping at the outset, new ravine formations. Allowing erosion on ravine slopes would reduce its size, thus giving scope for sedimentation of the released soils on the ravine bottoms.

This in situ sedimentation can be used to construct temporary gully plugs perpendicular to the flow of water. The height of the same can be increased to allow further sedimentation, thus converting existing ravines into agricultural fields. This technique is based on the geological process of erosion and deposition.

This approach requires a helping hand from society. Ravine victims should be organised in various groups, under the democratic management of the gram sabha. Non-governmental organisations should take an initiative in protecting community interests, providing training along with reclaiming activity. The private sector too, can help with technology and capital, ensuring that the people in the area ultimately will have the last word. The sustainability factor should rest entirely on community acceptance. Lastly to inject the feeling of association among the people, the ravine land should be transferred to them. Provisions for livelihood should be made to the people within their own settlement.



The Environment public hearing of M/s Essar Steel Ltd, Hazaria, Surat, Gujrat, for production expansion was on November 28, 2003. This was based on a fraud Environment Impact Assessment prepared with fabricated and manipulated baseline environment monitoring data. The villagers were vociferous in their protests against the public hearing. They complained about the plant having adverse effects on their livelihood. The company briefed the public once before but all this is only an eye wash. Hope to see a positive action in this regard.


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