Published: Saturday 31 July 2004


The recent attempt by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, to conserve and protect the cheetah is indeed praiseworthy. However, the fact is that we in India look after the wild animals of the forests and ignore their poorer cousins -- the urban wild.

In Kolkata in particular, this is a problem. The city (certain parts) is no stranger to jackals, civets, mongoose and varieties of stray dogs. However, there is no existing documentation on these. In fact, the chief scientist of the mammal section, Zoological Survey of India (zsi), has admitted to this failing. Meanwhile, their numbers continue to fall in the face of growing anthropogenic pressure.



With reference to 'Insecure and unenergetic' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 3, June 30, 2004), I am a keen advocate of the use of biomass for fuel. As the principal of a residential school in the Mehsana district, Gujarat, I have attempted to put into practice some of these ideas. I've had around 1,500 saplings of Jatropha planted along the school boundary. Biofuel extracts from these can be used in the school's diesel vehicles in the near future. We have a large number of students from an agricultural background. Their families, owning sizeable stretches of land, are dependent on chemical fertilisers and pesticides. We also have an organic vegetable garden that supplies vegetables for the school's hostels. All methods to combat pests are environment-friendly. They include the use of solutions of garlic, onion, dish soap, salt, chilli, etc.


Missing the point

This is in response to the sceptical piece on the California-based Ruckus Society (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 2, June 15, 2004). For those of us familiar with the activist scene in the us, there is little doubt about Ruckus' contribution towards enhancing the visual footprint of activist efforts. That creative banners at various strategic locations make an indelible impression is undeniable. It is unfortunate that dte found it necessary to engage in petty "point-scoring". The creative approaches pioneered by Ruckus have raised the quality of visual communication and other kinds of engagements at activist events.


Patent poser

History always provides new perspectives on the present, as is amply made clear in the article 'A 17th century inspiration', (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 3, June 30, 2004).

Formulated first in 17th century England and then developed in the us over several centuries, the concept of Intellectual Property and the mechanisms to protect it are presented as completely self-evident and universally applicable today. Instead of accepting these concepts unquestioningly, India needs to develop its own framework for encouraging industrial and scientific development.

It is interesting to note that even in the western world, patents have changed -- from primarily offering protection to inventors against competition, to becoming a key part of the armoury of large corporates. Another reason for India to be alert.



As per a recent Kerala government order, upon payment of a mere Rs 3,000 anyone can fill an acre of paddy field and use it for construction purposes. This applies to municipalities, panchayat s and municipal corporations. The end result of this could be terrible.


Need to reach out

An old admirer of Down To Earth (and cse), I am surprised to note that almost all the publications appear only in English. In my opinion, this practice results in withholding valuable information from a sizeable majority.

The English-speaking gentry are relatively less concerned about the deterioration of environment. The dangers to air, land and the waters hardly affect their lives in comparison to the common man.

If the latter are sensitised about the interrelationship between the miseries of their life and the ecological degeneration they will definitively try to amend the situation. But who is to inform them? The national vernacular media have their own biases. They are more interested in whipping up controversies instead of informing the public.

So, I feel cse's publications should be available in all Indian languages.


Left in the lurch

Apropos the news item 'Doubts sown' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 3, June 30, 2004), I have been affected by the October 2002 directive of the Supreme Court. I own about 16 hectares of land in Karnataka's Bellary district. Since 1950, I have been involved in mining iron ore on this tract. The area is drought-prone and completely devoid of vegetation. When I appealed for lease renewal, the state government asked me to pay the net present value (npv) based on the court's directives. However, there is no clarity about the payment of npv in case of renewal of leases where the forest was denuded long ago.


The inside story

Apropos the report 'By hook or by crook' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 4, July 15, 2004), I would like to offer some clarifications. To begin with, Moses Otsyula is not a medical doctor but a molecular biologist whose area of expertise is research on primates. He helped us, at the Nyumbani Home, in setting up a non-profit laboratory to test our hiv + orphans. He was later awarded the Eisenhower Fellowship, whereupon he left for the us to learn laboratory activities. On his return, instead of updating the existing facilities, he set up a lab for his own profit. Since then he has been trying to claim undue credit.

He falsely declared that it was his idea to carry out the "research", which involved sending a blood sample of one of the home's hiv + children to Oxford for analysis. As founder and medical director, it was I who consulted with several medical professionals to work out a proposal for the research. The study was eventually sanctioned by the Kenyan government. Otsyula was peripheral to it; the paper was submitted without his name because he did not give permission to include it. All regulations were followed. Otsyula has no right to cry foul. In fact, we have instituted a defamatory suit against him.


Pick of the post bag

Right or wrong?
Apropos 'Rite? Wrong.' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 2, June 15, 2004), the British High Commission (bhc) did not donate any money to Sankat Mochan Foundation (smf), contrary to what the article states.

Your reporter also notes that every year in just two ghat s 40,000 bodies are cremated generating 15,000 tonnes of ash per month. This is absurd. The total weight of say 3,500 dead bodies cremated in a month, including the firewood used in the process, does not exceed 1330 tonnes (at the rate of 300 kg for an average body weight of 80 kg). In that case, the ash contents estimated at about 5 per cent of the entire solid matter cannot exceed 66.5 tonnes per month. Such data has been used to make derogatory remarks about Varanasi and Ganga. The last rites of Hindus should be treated with more respect. They do not affect the Ganga water quality. The derogatory headline of the piece has also hurt the religious sentiments of millions.

Then again, the opinion of R C Trivedi, additional director of the Central Pollution Control Board (cpcb) that the smf/Varanasi Nagar Nigam (vnn) sewage treatment plant at Sota would become non-functional during the monsoon as the area is flood-prone, is incorrect. The works at Sota will be protected by 75-metre-high embankments, well above the common flood level of 73 metres.

The engineering consultants of jica have been preparing a master plan which has never been discussed, publicly or with the vnn. After the 74th amendment to the Constitution, the local civic bodies have been entrusted with the responsibility of sewerage, drinking water and environmental protection in cities. Therefore, the statement in the article is only true to the extent that vnn's approval alone is necessary for implementing any plan.

The reporter has failed to recognise the contribution of the smf in cleaning Ganga river.

Executive director, smf, Varanasi

Down To Earth replies
Firstly, in direct contrast to what the smf executive director says in his letter, as per a press release of the British High Commission (bhc) dated April 16, 2004, it is funding a project to clean and renovate the ghats. And the project is being carried out by smf. Sources from bhc have explicitly corroborated the information.

Secondly, even if one 'assumes' that 66.5 tonnes of ash per month is generated on just 'two ghats' of the city, it means that 0.02 milligrammes of pollution load per litre of water is being added to the river. The figure may not seem substantial to those worried about religious sentiments, but it is sufficient to ruffle the feathers of environmentalists.

Thirdly, Trivedi still maintains that the proposal of smf/Varanasi Nagar Nigam (vnn) to build a sewage treatment plant at Sota is not feasible. According to him, to rely on average flooding figures for such an important project is unscientific. It is well known that the characteristics of rivers like Ganga change suddenly and the flooding levels can easily cross the average mark. If this happens (the chances of which are rather high), the entire city would be left in the lurch. Furthermore, the velocity and kinetic energy of the river during the monsoon is strong enough to break the embankments.

Lastly, if the Union government had given vnn the sole authority to take decisions about sewage man.

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