Relocated and damned

It is disheartening to learn the plight of residents of Bikhnathori village in Bihar who don’t have basic facilities like water and electricity (‘Corridor of uncertainty’, March 1-15, 2010).

As per media reports, the villagers were brought to the area by the British as labourers to exploit timber from nearby forests and remove boulders from the Pandai riverbed. They eventually settled on the land, which is now part of the Valmiki Wildlife Sanctuary. Till 2002, the government allotted several mining leases in the sanctuary area to remove pebbles and boulders from the Pandai and the area was full of stone crushing units that spewed clouds of dust all around. Ecology of the area has revived only in the past few years after the Supreme Court banned mining activities in the protected forest area. The government cannot wish away people who have been living in the area for generations. If the government says there is no record of Bikhnathori as a village, it should rehabilitate the people in some suitable place where they can access basic facilities.

Valmikinagar, West Champaran, Bihar

Why modify brinjal?

The government has extended all support to biotech company Monsanto-MAHYCO to grow Bt brinjal in the country (‘Don’t make a mash of it’, February 16-28, 2010). But why is it doing so? There is no scarcity of brinjals in India and everyone is aware of it.

I am not against genetic engineering. The technology does benefit us, but not in all cases. The yield from Bt seeds may be high, but genetically modified (GM) crops are not necessarily safe for consumption. A few studies by the manufacturing companies are not enough to guarantee the safety of GM crops. The government should protect national interest and not be subservient to the interest of multinational companies.

Asansol, West Bengal

I recently came across a news report that said researchers in India prolonged the shelf-life of tomatoes by turning off genes that produce ripening enzymes. This prevents tomatoes from sagging and keeps them fresh for up to 45 days. It appears, from the report, that tomatoes are being genetically modified and the agriculture industry has already embarked on the project.


I would like to know what is happening to sweet corn. Is it a GM crop with sugarcane gene? Earlier we used to get the native white corn in plenty and the yellow sweet corn was a rare expensive variety. Now it is the reverse. I have no choice but to eat the sweet-as-sugar corn since native white corns are rarely available with vendors. Is it being phased out, deliberately?


Need to widen bank network

Rural banking initiatives where banks can reach out to villagers should be expanded to all rural areas (‘Bank at your doorstep’, March 1-15, 2010). All banks should be mandated to bear the cost of universal financial access as part of their business obligation.


No need to import oil, pulses

India has been self-sufficient in oil seeds and pulses. The grains were cultivated on dry land between two crops of paddy. Cultivation of the grains suffered a setback after the government promo - ted import of oil and pulses. The plan to organize 60,000 pulse and oil seed growing villages in rain-fed areas, proposed in the recent Union budget, gives some hope.

Golf Links Road, Thiruvananthapuram

Fund transfer

Chapter three of the recently tabled Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s audit report for Gujarat (civil), for the year ending March 31, 2009, has a sentence on page 123: “Funds released by Government of India for National Afforestation Programme were diverted for State scheme i e, Sujalam Suphalam Yojana.”

Shouldn't the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests ask the Gujarat government to explain the said diversion (show cause) and initiate recovery of funds?


Dark side of Net

The 40th anniversary of the Internet is a matter of joy as life without it seems impossible today (‘Blanket ban, March 1-15, 2010). It is an important tool for development and success in every sphere of life. But like a coin has two sides, Internet has its flip side too. People go out much less than before and spend long hours in front of the computer. This has resulted in health problems and reduced social interaction.


Water tariff was a consensus

The news report ‘Farmers foil water tariff hike, for now’ (February 16-28, 2010) misrepresents facts. As a former member of the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) who was involved in the tariff exercise, I bring certain facts to your attention. The draft approach paper determining criteria for bulk water tariff was prepared by a consultant. It was discussed at nine places in the state and based on the views expressed by stakeholders.

The paper was revised by the authority and presented along with the draft criteria at a state-level workshop in Pune on January 21. Hence the workshop is not the first consultative process. The Marathi version of the revised approach paper and the draft criteria were made available at all taluka headquarters well before the workshop. It was also widely circulated among line departments, water utilities and experts in the field of economics and water resources and non-profits. Thus it is not true that it was available only at the authority’s website.

The methodology mentioned in the revised approach paper leads to no tariff shock to any category of water user. No stakeholder or non-profit has been able to propose any alternative methodology which will consider equity. In any case, the proposed irrigation charges are extremely low compared to industry, keeping in view affordability.

The criteria for fixing bulk water tariff have not been attempted so far in any country. So the effort of the authority is path breaking. Developing and modifying it is a dynamic process which will involve all stakeholders. Though I was not involved in the formulation of the Act (to set up MWRRA), I understand it was evolved after due consultative process and not enacted in any haste. Also, there was no walk-out by any section from the workshop. A demand for more consultation meetings was accepted and is subsequently being held at the six revenue divisional headquarters.

The Conduct of Business Regulations is under finalization based on the above experience and exercise. Being the first water regulator in the country, there is no guidance available to the authority on developing various regulations.


Our correspondent replies

The report was based on the information collected from the farmers and activists present at the public meeting on January 21.

The workshop was the first official public consultation on the approach paper on bulk water tariff prepared by MWRRA; previous consultations were on the approach paper prepared by the consultant, which was not an official document and was substantially different from the MWRRA draft. Therefore the news report was accurate when it said that the meeting was the first public consultation on tariff regulation. The farmers present at the consultation meeting said they had approached local authorities for MWRRA approach paper but were told no such paper was available. So, practically, the approach paper was available only on the website as reported.

It is incorrect to say there would be no tariff shock. A farmer who has more than two children would have to pay 1.5 times the normal tariff if the regulations are introduced in the present form which proposes a 50 per cent tariff hike. It must also be stated that no stakeholder can ever produce an alternative methodology as only the state has the resources to do so. Civil society organizations have proposed that sustainable livelihoods and basic rights must determine water tariff criteria but it is for the MWRRA to develop the methodology.

The farmers and activists did stall the meeting for some time and agreed to stay back only when MWRRA agreed to six more public meetings.


A Reliance mobile tower has been installed next to my house. Several people in my locality protested against it as heavy electricity wires pass over their houses, but the officers never cared for their concern. I learnt about the Mobile Tower Grievance Forum from the article ’60 people battle giants’ (February 1-15, 2010). Can they help us file a case?


DTE responds

You can post your grievance and contact details at the forum’s website http://mtgf.blogspot.com. Representatives of the forum will get in touch with you. You can also send in your query to mslondhe@rediffmail.com.

I am a student of product design at the Lasalle College of Arts in Singapore. My final year project deals with waste management in rural India. I plan to design a collection-disposal bag that would minimize the direct exposure to animal waste, for example, collecting cow dung with bare hands.

The bag can be attached to the back of livestock to collect the dung and prevent littering of streets. The bag has to be biodegradable so that it can be disposed in the compost heap. It also has to be cheap so that rural people can avail it free. I am looking into materials like banana leaves, but they involve a lot of processing cost which would make the product expensive. I am looking for organizations or co-operatives that can supply processed biodegradable material at a low price to prepare the bags.


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