Published: Saturday 15 May 2010

Farmers’ fundamental right

We must have the right to decide whether we want to eat Bt brinjal (‘Don’t make a mash of it’, February 16-28, 2010). Similarly, farmers should also have the right to decide what food to grow since they will be affected the most. Why just Bt brinjal, farmers will be affected adversely by any genetically modified (GM) crop. Such crops will steal their freedom of choosing seeds.

Monopoly will destroy seed varieties that have been used locally for ages now. This will lead to an imbalance in the ecosystem. The country is suffering the adverse impacts of the Green Revolution. Farmers must consider carefully before switching to GM crops. Given Monsanto-Mahyco’s reputation, I strongly reject Bt brinjal. I request the authorities and the media look at the Bt brinjal debate in the light of farmers’ plight.


To the rescue of tonga

The letter by Aneesha Bharadwaj in April 1-15, 2030 issue offers a solution to the problem faced by the Gwalior municipality as described in the news, ‘End of journey for Gwalior’s tongas’, in the same issue. Bharadwaj suggests making biodegradable bags that can be attached to the posterior of animals for collecting dung and keeping the roads clean. The municipality plans to ban the horse-drawn tongas for they litter the roads with dung. The corporation could fund her project.

The corporation’s perception that tongas move slowly, cause traffic jams and hence should be done away with is wrong. The existing design of tongas can be improvised by giving them a sleeker shape to suit the city’s cramped roads. The corporation should think carefully before scrapping the ecofriendly mode of transport.

L R Sharma

Go beyond the budget

It is not enough to follow a fourpronged strategy, as mentioned in the budget, to spur agricultural growth (‘Budget pitches for agriculture, March 16-31, 2010). More investment, water management, innovation, research and better seeds can raise productivity. Dry land farming could also be revived in a big way.


Weed troubles

I would like to draw your attention towards weeds such as lantana, eupatorium, parthenium, abutilon, desmodium and sida invading tiger habitats. The weeds reduce the fodder value of the forest floor to less than 50 per cent, affecting the tigers’ herbivore prey base. Unless this is tackled, wild animals will have to find fodder elsewhere, causing more human-animal conflicts.


Passive code

The colours we see in Rajasthan respond to the heat of the Thar. The whites of Kerala and Manipur gel with the greenery there. Everything in our country— clothes, food and festivals—are ecologically sensitive and in sync with the local microclimate. But today they have changed to ape the West. The story with buildings is the same (‘Green buildings: how to redesign’, April 1-15, 2010).

The country’s energy conservation building code, derived from the American Society for Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning code, establishes it is okay to design fully airconditioned buildings and the Indian market needs to adapt itself to cater to such buildings. Making this code mandatory will facilitate designs that ape Western buildings even more. But the national building code, which has remarkable information on passive design, remains among the most underappreciated documents.

Passive buildings use sunlight and wind to cater to their demands for lighting, heating and cooling as opposed to active systems that use electricity. Passive design also includes information on ways to preserve and protect the environment and how to provide a safe working environment.

But our buildings lack such sensibilities. Wonder why? When I was in the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi, I was not taught the code. Just because the code’s vocabulary does not include ‘sustainable’ and ‘green’ people feel it has nothing to contribute to the ecological design of buildings. Time we woke up to our strengths and looked within rather than look up to the West.


image Delhi’s airport designers might have green-washed somewhat, but I disagree on the need for frugality in modern airports. They need to be compact and fast; that makes commercial sense. As an intern at the airport in the summer of 2008, I had access to the design report of Mott MacDonald, the lead consultant for the modernization of the airport. The layout has been designed for speed and convenience of the passengers.

Rail travel must be promoted over air travel. We need to rethink the future of transportation in India and steer it towards high-speed rail and metropolitan mass transit. We don’t have even functional public transport systems in overcrowded cities like Ludhiana, Kanpur and Lucknow. People end up buying cars. This is a clear case of shortsightedness in planning.


image The Delhi airport should have been an example of a real green building, not a sugarcoated one. A green building does not necessarily have to be attractive. It is more important that the resources are managed wisely and the cost of construction is kept low while not compromising safety.


image The editorial critiques well modern India’s obsession of blindly aping the West. Without doubt we need good buildings to house modern-day equipments, but a building can surely do without glass expanses. Recycling water is also an area that needs attention— the water can be used in several ways and even be sent to nearby farms for irrigation.

As far as transportation is concerned why not have cycle rickshaws to transport Metro users from the stations to their destinations. This has an added advantage: besides being eco-friendly, cycle rickshaws provide employment. It is unfortunate that they are banned from the parking lots of Delhi’s Metro stations.

We need to go green, but humanely. We must take cognizance of the rural and urban poor in our development processes. Otherwise, all our actions would mean cosmetic efforts for the upper classes.


image As an architect, I agree that in a country like India the concept of sustainability in the built environment has to be understood holistically, and should not be limited to putting a few energysaving gadgets in an otherwise wasteful building. It is also meaningless to pull down an existing building that is energy efficient, than build a new one.

Linking sustainability and existing buildings has important implications. It preserves our historic architecture and is also an environmentally correct thing to do.



Unusually hot Bengal

High temperatures coupled with a prolonged dry spell has perplexed people in North Bengal, which includes northern parts of West Bengal and Bangladesh. On March 23, the mercury in the region rose to 39.7°C—the highest in recent years. An analysis of the region’s average temperature for March in the past 10 years shows an upward trend (see graph). Usually, North Bengal receives 566 mm of rainfall during the winter. But there was no rainfall till March 24.

Soil dryness is so severe that the temperature remained above 36°C some 5 cm below the soil surface. Malda, Jalpaiguri and Dinajpur districts in West Bengal, known for their breezy weather, are experiencing heat wave. And this is much before peak summer sets in. Water shortage has parched 14,000 hectares of farmland, affecting farmers who grow bodo paddy, jute and vegetables.

Farmers in Jalpaiguri recently threatened the district agricultural officer of dire consequence if no arrangement was made for irrigation. Given the dry spell, however, officials won’t be able to do much.


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