Published: Monday 31 May 2010

Desert cash crops will make India poor

The western part of India, specifically the dry region, will play an important role in determining the Indian monsoon and even global climate patterns. Our team at the Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) recently completed an analysis on groundwater depletion in Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan and found an overall decline of 20 cm per year; there was no significant recharge through monsoon rainfall.

One of the reasons for this depletion is that farmers are growing cash crops which require more water. The only viable way to conserve the desert ecosystem is to plant species like sewan grass (Lasiurus sindicus) that need little water and can provide fodder for cattle. Earlier, large portions of the desert was covered with sewan.

This grass checks the severity of dust storms. Large quantities of dust gets lifted from the region during storms which create a blanket of haze called aerosols. This aerosol load even gets transported to Indo-Gangetic plains and can disrupt weather patterns. We did a field experiment on the potential dust load generation from rangelands with different grazing pressures and found soil loss from overgrazed sewan rangeland to be three to four times higher than the controlled grazed rangeland. Increasing the area under sewan in the Thar will not only reduce the pressure on groundwater but also protect the environment and support the cattle population.

Scientist (Soil Physics), CAZRI, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Bullet for bullet policy

The killing of 76 CRPF and state police personnel in Dantewada was shocking. We have seen the Naxalite activities spread for which both the Naxalites and the government are to be blamed (‘Bullets are not the answer to development’ April 16-30, 2010). The point for introspection is why even after 63 years of independence the tribals and the poor are ignored?

I see two possible approaches to the Naxal problem. One, the intellectuals, human rights organizations and nonprofits should join hands and talk to Naxalites and make them see that violence is futile. Two, the Central and state governments and the political parties should sink their differences and take up welfare measures. If this is delayed things would go out of control further.

If this approach fails, the army should launch an attack on the Naxalites. But our politicians are more worried about their vote banks and hence are hesitant to act. The Naxals should be shown no sympathy.


image If bullets are chosen to subvert the democratic process, bullets are the answer. The argument in the editorial is soft-headed and if democratically elected leaders are criminals, citizens should take the blame for electing them. Both state and Maoists are killing innocents. Publications like yours are either unable to see the picture or refuse to see it. Unbridled freedom of individuals is not democracy.


image I would hold the government responsible for the Dantewada massacre. It is busy with the Indian Premier League matches and is least bothered about the development of the people living in the shadow of Naxalism.


Ad to buy media silence?

I was surprised to see the poster released by the Ministry of Home Affairs (‘The repentant militant’, April 16-30, 2010) in newspapers. The advertisement, it seems, was meant to buy the English media rather than spread awareness. It would have been more interesting to see the message in Hindi and regional languages so that people who cannot read English can at least think about it.

Filmmaker, Dehradun, Uttarakhand

An attitude change

Your editorial ‘Green buildings: how to redesign’ (April 1-15, 2010) emphasizes the need to include energy, water and material standard in the National Building Code. Our municipalities, on their part, can evolve a basic green building design to be followed by all.

We can build planned peripheral green towns with good health, education and consumer facilities where rules are strictly implemented and encroachments not allowed. Every person should be made responsible for their environment. An attitude change is important for this to happen.


image Western architectural concepts do not support Indian climate conditions. Even then they are copied here on a large-scale to disastrous effects.


Glass too can shade

The editorial on green buildings has its merits, but at times generalizations blur the specifics. Shade is definitely the first line of defence against the sun in warm climate and should be included in the design. But then glass buildings no longer require to be greenhouses. The solar heat gain coefficient (indicator of a window’s shading ability) of glass can be reduced to make glass a shading element in itself.

Compact building is also a good feature, but an airport has its functional requirements. Reducing air travel is not the solution.

A publication of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests addresses sustainability principles better than the Energy Conservation Building Code, especially in relation to water. The Indian Green Building Council is also spreading its influence and can be the key to the success of green buildings in India like the green building council in the US.

Last of all, I would request Rashmi Dickinson to share photographs of her house. The details she gives of the new house she is getting built in Amber makes it sound like a great place to live in. The house is designed in the style of a haveli with a courtyard and plenty of greenery (Letters, May 1-15).


New rehab policy needed

Along with tiger conservation, the government needs to formulate and follow a well thought out rehabilitation policy for people (‘1, 411 tigers, and unanswered questions’, March 16-31, 2010).


Fuel for thought

The article on the changing economics of biomass-based energy generation (‘Biomass market in a flux’, March 16- 31, 2010) could have included a section on how the change is affecting the producers and sellers of biomass—the agriculturists. Are the increased prices leading to an improvement in their quality of life? Is there a subtle transfer of power from the capitalists to farmers?


Road over water tanks

The National Highway Authority of India is going ahead with its project to four-lane the highway from Thiruvanathapuram to Kanyakumari and Kavalkinaru without publishing the route alignment.

The authority has notified only survey numbers of land to be acquired. Many of these survey numbers were indicated as government poramboke (reserved for community use); when the survey numbers were verified in the village office, these turned out to be irrigation tanks. The tanks are rainharvesting systems built by erstwhile kings and landlords who knew the hydrology of the area and built the structures to trap rainwater that would otherwise flow into the sea.

Filling up these tanks to build a road would severely impact water resources in the region. The road would destroy nearly 100 irrigation tanks, 200 hectares paddy fields and large plantations of coconut and plantain trees. Places like Nagercoil that fall along the route and receive water once in 12 days, would face droughts.

Groundwater has already dipped to 150 metres below ground level in many places near Kanyakumari. The road widening project should be scrapped and the highway authority should re-develop the existing NH-47, instead.

Former scientist with ICAR

A trend setter

As a bird and wildlife researcher, I appreciate the work of conservation group Wild Orissa (‘Two in bush is better’, March 16-31, 2010). Other state governments should also adopt such measures to save the endangered bird species. Poachers are well aware of bird species and their behaviour, and thus can be better tourist guides.

Wildlife researcher, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Pick of the postbag

How Tumkur became dry

I appreciate the efforts made by the non-profit Dhanya in reviving old and abandoned natural springs of Tumkur district ('Lost and found', April 1-15, 2010) to augment drinking water supply and support summer crops in Madhugiri, Pavagada and Koratagere talukas.I had worked in the region as an officer in charge of forestry in the 1960s and again from 2000. What a transformation the four decades have brought to the biodiversity and the climate of the region.

The old natural springs, thick sandalwood forests, areca-nut gardens and mixed crops in Madhugiri of the 1960s are now memory. Large-scale cultivation of groundnut has led to increasing soil erosion; the region has sandy soil, susceptible to erosion. The loose soil silted the water courses that attracted the sand-miners who are excavating even agricultural fields where sand is present at a depth of 15 metres.

The mining depleted the water table. The dug up agricultural fields are the first sign of desertification. If a desert develops anywhere in south India, it will be here. People need to realize the impending catastrophe.


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