Published: Monday 31 May 2004

Pick of the post bag

This is in response to the article 'Smooth Sailing' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 23, April 30, 2004) lauding the attempts of 10 African countries at sharing the Nile waters peacefully. In my opinion, the current Nile impasse is not likely to be solved in a hurry. The latest diplomatic outburst between Kenya and Tanzania on one hand, and Egypt on the other, with Uganda coming out in support of its neighbours has not helped solve this ancient dispute.

The upper Nile countries feel it is their 'natural' right to use the Nile waters, while Egypt holds that it cannot exist without the same. Both sides are right in principle but wrong in practice. As President Museveni had clarified in his recent statement on the use of the waters of the Nile, no one in East Africa would like to see the Nile disappear under the desert beds. But Egypt must also realise that the 1929 Nile Water Treaty is an obsolete pact, of little use to anyone.

The Egyptians nearly went to war against Ethiopia and Sudan over the Nile in the past. But this latest "Act of War" threat from the Egyptian Foreign Minister, against states (specifically Kenya) that would proceed to utilise the Nile waters, was both unrealistic and ridiculous. Military solution of the Nile will not be in Egypt's best interest. Neither will this threat prevent what the East African Union already has in store for its development projects.

Unlike the Blue Nile, which can easily be negotiated trilaterally (Egypt Ethiopia and Sudan), the White Nile is a multilateral problem involving many states and people of various cultures.

If President Mubarak flew out of Tripoli (during the African Union meeting), and pulled out his delegation because of his country's long-standing bullish policy of "no negotiations" on the status of Nile water quotas then, Egypt is clearly walking on thin ice.

Both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have long been supporting Egypt, by withholding financial support to Nile related projects of the Nile riparian states of East Africa (including Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania). It is time they carefully reviewed their policies and lent their ears to the voices of the poor in the upper Nile basin.

The Nile Basin Initiative is the only way out of this impasse. But it alone will not be able to deal with the political fallout of the conflict. The occasion demands greater courage and better statesmanship from the leaders of the riparian states.

I wish for a negotiated solution that will be beneficial to all sides. But the overall picture is not as rosy as the one you attempted to paint.

Associate Consultant
Gender and Development Consultants
Dar Es Salaam


Our housing society in Chennai has a compound that is open and unpaved. It is therefore prone to waterlogging. In fact, in times of heavy rain, the water level is often over a foot. Our society did not pay any heed to Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) until the government enforced it in Chennai. When the RWH scheme was discussed, it was decided that the entire compound should be fully exploited to raise the water table over the years. However, when the actual implementation came about, two blocks opted out and went for localised harvesting, leaving much of the compound untapped.

Now summer has arrived and the water sources are drying up, since the monsoon was not bountiful. Some have recently filed a request for yet another borewell in the same place. When the society was apprised of this development and forewarned that the existing yield might dry up if an additional borewell was drilled, it pronounced that it had a right to tap water wherever available, regardless of whether it contributed to the recharge or not. The society also refused to get a resistivity test done to assess the yield.

This could be happening elsewhere too. Does anybody have suggestions as to a possible solution?


Made to order

This is in response to the editorial 'Nimalapedu Zero' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 22, April 15, 2004). Here are some clarifications:

The land transfer laws in areas governed by the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution differ from state to state

The acts of (state) legislative houses cannot change the land laws promulgated under the Fifth Schedule

The Samata judgement did not prohibit transfer of land for 'development purposes'. It merely stated that, the government is also a 'person' and leasing of lands to private mining companies in the scheduled areas is prohibited. This allowed for land transfers to government instruments such as, the Andhra Pradesh Forest Development Corporation (apfdc) and the Andhra Pradesh State Mining Development Corporation (apsmdc) which operate across the state and have non-tribal members. Constitutionally, the scheduled areas are to only to be governed by cooperative corporations constituted under the Fifth Schedule culling members from the tribals. The judgement then, is a setback preventing eviction of bodies such as apfdc and apsmdc

But tribals of Khamma district forced the apfdc to part with 1600 acres of cashew plantation and it was distributed to 800 tribal families. And while Samata was fighting the court case in Anantagiri, in Chintapalli tribals prevented the efforts of one Galaxy Granite, which secured a license to mine white marble in the name of tribals unrelated to the area

The Supreme Court had laid down that 20 per cent of the budget of the public/private enterprise should be earmarked for the rehabilitation of the displaced tribals and development of the area and such expenditure should be free of taxes. So far there is no record of the same.

As is evident then, courts allow or dismiss petitions upholding human rights. But change in policies in development can only happen by organizing, educating and empowering the tribal communities. Experiences vary from place to place, and one has to understand the relevance of these experiences and tailor a strategy to suit the requirements of the immediate environs.


The editorial 'Nimalapedu Zero (Down To Earth, April 15, 2004) raises the question -- What can we do that tribals might benefit from the riches beneath their feet? A possible solution might be, forming a company under Section 25, culling members from the tribal community and some non-tribals of the area (those who prove residence for five generations). The company could convene once a year for the election of the new Board. Its management would include experts of the field handling the government and the private companies and at the same time aware of key ecological issues. The company could follow the example of the Tribal Development Corporation in Maharashtra ie, run grocery and general stores selling goods at controlled prices, provide credit and also buy stuff from the tribals at notified prices. In fact, such precedents abound in the western world. But the problem with India is that politicians and bureaucrats cannot trust tribals with ownership and control of land that, in truth, belongs to them.


Which comes first: science or people?

It is a well known fact that, if an mnc is accused of indulging in activities detrimental to the environment, it will find means to get around the truth. The same however, is not expected of scientists. And yet they appear to be toeing this very line. The article 'Lies, Damn Lies and Endosulfan' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 19, April 15, 2004), mentions how the expert committee set up by the Registration Committee of the Central Insecticides Board gave the pesticide Endosulfan a clean chit, despite compelling living evidence to the contrary. This is a clear case of suppressio veri and suggestio falsi.

It makes one wonder: which comes first, science or people?


Endosulphan is for tobacco

Many of the pesticide firms that are causing so much harm are part of the so-called tobacco industry. It is extremely puzzling that this information is not used to legitimately discredit their 'science' and their supposed 'concern' for health. I am appending a couple of related links to make my case but there is more to the matter. Endosulfan is a tobacco pesticide and its producers often make other tobacco pesticides, many of them being chlorine chemicals which produce dioxin upon burning. The tobacco industry cannot possibly explain its involvement here to public satisfaction. Here are some of the links:








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