Published: Tuesday 15 June 2004


When I was in Kerala in January 2004 I noticed that titanium oxide was being discharged into the Indian ocean from a plant on the Trivandrum coast. I was horrified to see the white titanium oxide discolouring the azure waters. Is something being done about this?


Giving JFMCs the stick

This is apropos the piece 'Overturning a difficult situation' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 21, March 31, 2004). Here, China is projected as an example par excellence so far as managing bamboo potential is concerned. In my opinion, the two countries, China and India, have totally different political and administrative setups and such comparisons are meaningless.

Then again, the argument that Joint Forest Management Committees (jfmcs) should be endowed with greater powers is incorrect. The Joint Forest Management (jfm) is an unorganised sector and vesting it with more powers would be suicidal.

The state government of Madhya Pradesh has gambled away government revenue worth crores on jfmcs with zero returns. There is some talk of jfmcs leasing out bamboo to farmers, to manage and trade. Such ideas bespeak the ignorance of bamboo management strategies in our country. In my experience, farmers for the greater part are not savvy about market trends of bamboo. Even something as basic as the concept of felling cycle is unknown to them. Given this state of affairs jfmcs and their licensed farmers could only add to the chaos instead of alleviating it.

In effect then, the propositions in 'Overturning a difficult situation' might in reality make things go out of control. A wiser option lies in bringing up the matter in Parliament and discussing a solution keeping the Indian scenario in perspective. Bamboo should remain a forest produce to be managed by foresters on all areas under transit rules to save it from the hazard of extinction.


The letter 'Organically yours' (Down To Earth, May 15, 2004) by Prashant Rao is a timely suggestion to ensure that organic farming gets going in this country for more than one reason. The nation's capital 'soil fertility' is vanishing. The soil is yoked with more than its carrying capacity, what with an indiscriminate use of fertilisers and pesticides. The major issues are how to increase organic production and how to make the consumers buy organic products. The consumer should realise that these products not only ensure their own safety but also that of the soil.

The western type of organic markets and consumerism will not suit our needs. A better idea than that would be to identify areas or villages as 'bio-village' and encourage them to convert to organic farming. Once the area is declared organic, whatever is grown on this land will be deemed organic and the produce will be available to everyone.

Can Down To Earth begin a regular column which could serve as a forum for the discussion of organic produce and their benefits?


Paving the way

I would like to highlight an important fact about roads. Every time a new road is laid atop an existing one, the road height increases by four inches. Within a span of three years road height increases by a foot. Consequently, most houses and buildings start receding from the mean road level. Which means that in due course the first floor becomes the main entrance and the ground floor the basement. The only option for residents is to either demolish the old structure and construct new buildings commensurate with the road height, or adapt to the changes.

The problem can be solved by following a method which has gained popularity in developed countries. The roads that are to be relaid are first removed using special equipment. Then the blue metal removed from the old road is mixed with tar and other compounds and only a small quantity of fresh blue metal is mixed with this to relay the new road. This helps maintain the same road level year after year. Moreover, continuous mining for blue metal is reduced, thereby controlling pollution level. This involves recycling of the old blue metal, and the time taken to relay the road is minimal without disruption of traffic flow, since the relaying work is done in batches.

Before laying the roads a small net type of sheet is spread and above that the roads are laid. This net holds the blue metal in place and there is no damage to the roads even in the most severe of monsoons; relaying of the road is taken care of for the next three years. I understand that nocil in Mumbai had laid such roads in their factory vicinity and these are still going strong.

We are constructing national highways connecting vast stretches. It is then imperative that some sort of discipline is brought into roadmaking.


Resin D'etre

The article 'Steep Lack' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 24, May 15, 2004) was informative and interesting. However, having had some knowledge of lac-based livelihood studies in Orissa I would like to point out a thing or two.

To begin with, in Orissa there are three kinds of people dependent on lac. The first collect lac from forests and sell it; the second cultivate and then process it to make lacquerware and the third simply purchase the product for further processing. Of all three, the second is the most important as it ensures both production and processing. The people constituting this group belong to the lakhara or sankhari caste and have enjoyed absolute monopoly over the activity since preindependence days, as the other castes stayed away because of certain social restrictions. The lakharas also enjoyed many privileges. For instance, in certain states, they had a right to collect lac free of cost from trees in other peoples' private lands.

After independence, things gradually changed and the privileges were no longer available. Moreover, competitors from other castes now posed a major threat. The situation worsened with rapid depletion of lac trees and also with the fluctuating market demand. Hence, people who took great care to ensure a good harvest each year no longer found the profession commercially viable. The impact of their withdrawal from this age-old trade cannot be overlooked.

Secondly, it is mentioned in the box titled 'Wonder resin' that the word lac is a derivative of the sanskrit lakh. I am not sure how correct this is. What I know is that both lac and lakh have been derived from sanskrit laakshya (hence, the term laakshya griha in Mahabharata) and hence I doubt if it has any connection to the number one hundred thousand.


Educate to reform

I have just returned from fighting a fire along with 20 adults and 14 school students 18 kms from Kodaikanal in the Palani Hills. Every night one can see 5-10 fires in the valley. I am told this is a common occurrence throughout the length of the Western Ghats. I have also seen the phenomenon in the Himalaya. The cause, nearly always is human-made. These have a hazardous impact on the ecology. For instance, when the rains come there is no ground cover and severe soil erosion occurs. What is more, analysis of the carbon content in soils reveals that hill-burning has been going on for thousands of years. Then again, when the land is protected from fire trees regenerate quickly, and in fact there is little need for tree-planting. This however is not the case when trees are burnt down. In fact, careful examination of hill-sides reveal that for every hectare, some 5,000 young trees are burnt to cinder. And when the fires are particularly fierce, older trees may also be destroyed. Hill-burning also contributes to global warming. So why aren't they discontinued? There are many reasons given by the local peasants.

To begin with, there is the superstition that burning hills initiate the rains.

After 1-2 months of no rain the lemon grass on hill-tops and hill-sides become unpalatable. Days after burning fresh lemon grass shoots emerge. Ponies and cattle can feed on them.

To prevent others from burning one's own land one can set fire to all other lands except one's own.

But the long and the short of it is -- hill-burning is probably the greatest destroyer of our resources. But then again, it is a deeply ingrained tradition and can be brought to an end only through education. A dedicated taskforce working in conjunction with forestry officials can help realise this.


Power vs Poor

The cse team's attempt at re-exposing the plight of people living around Jaduguda and Bhatin mines in the article 'Red Alert in Nuclear India' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 23, April 30, 2004) is commendable. I have myself carried out a similar study on the effect of uranium radiations from the mines and their disposal in open land -- "tailing ponds" -- in 2002 and even met people in and around Jaduguda and Bhatin and collected evidence on the effect of the radiations on the health of people and plant productivity. It saddened me immensely, more so because, despite knowing the reality, I was utterly powerless to help these people. In the mad race to become a nuclear power the poor of our country remain neglected.


A call to all celiacs

This is in response to the article 'No chapattis' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 22, April 15, 2004).

I am 27 years old and have been a celiac since birth. This is the first article I have come across in an Indian publication addressing this ailment. A shroud of anonymity seems to have lifted.

I am interested in organising a club for celiacs in India. I have started a yahoogroup, CeliacNet, in the hope that it will help bring together many such people.


Group home page: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/celiacnet

Our aim:
Educate and empower patients

Inform and influence policy makers

Inform and influence food manufacturers

Spread awareness in the society

Forge partnerships with other such groups around the globe

In due course we also aspire to launch a newsletter, hold conventions and fund research on the subject. If you believe you can add value or benefit from being a part of this group, we request you to join right away.

Together we can make things better!...

Pick of the post bag

Interlinking of the rivers of India was proposed by the engineer, Visveswarya, and the idea was extended by the irrigation minister K L Rao. Rao's idea was to identify the major river basins of India which have surplus water, that they might feed the same into areas suffering from water scarcity. This was to be made possible by connecting the waters through a National Water Grid. For instance, connecting the river Yamuna to Rajasthan. The plan didn't work and a major portion of the canal got silted up.

Since India's tilt is eastwards, geologically speaking it is doubtful if the linking of rivers will work out. My concern is that Chilika, the largest brackish water lagoon in our country will be ruined by this project. Chilika is fed by 52 small rivers and nallas carrying a lot of untreated sewage and silt. If many more rivers are going to be interlinked, especially with Mahanadi, then a premature death of Chilika is imminent. This would also threaten the existence of the differnt kinds of fish, migratory water fowls and the famed Irrawaddy dolphins inhabiting the Chilika waters.

In fact, the first stage of degradation commenced with the Mahanadi Delta stage ii irrigation command, when a barrage was constructed at Mundali weir. This diverted the waters of the Hirakud Power House over an ayacut area of 1.36 lakh hectare. This ayacut area is in the periphery of Chilika and lies on the drainage basin of the lagoon. The active cultivation following the stage ii irrigation command contributed to the transport of soil and sediment deposition into the lagoon. This results in the loss of a lagoon area of 1-1.25 square kilometre every year. Imagine the magnitude of the problem once the rivers are connected. Deforestation has also added to these existing woes.

It's time we stopped fooling around with nature and made a united effort to save her bounty.


Individual effort

I would like to know if individuals can make any efforts towards creating awareness about water management.

The govt's efforts are not going to be enough.


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