Published: Sunday 15 August 2004

Clarifying doubts

The drought in Kerala compelled the state government to take immediate steps to counter the severe water shortage. One of the most widely accepted programmes was the digging of rain pits (mazha kuzhi) for recharging groundwater. As per government estimates 20,000,000 such pits have been dug all over the state. However, the current practice is not very scientific. Digging accelerates soil erosion thereby causing siltation and choking ponds. Unattended pits also serve as breeding grounds mosquitoes. A large number of rain pits with water in sloping areas may even cause land slides. Can anyone suggest a more viable option?


Beautiful minds

This is with reference to the article 'Beautification drive' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 24, May 15, 2004). Riverbed farming is a well known practice backed by legal sanction. It is therefore wrong to designate settlements of those engaged in this work as 'slum settlements'.

Quite rightly, "protecting and developing riverbed requires a zonal plan". Whatever the vested interests, agricultural land use of the riverbed was and still is the only land use supported by sound agricultural wisdom. And that possibly was the root cause of the problems faced by these people, majority of whom, at that point of time, were engaged in riverbed farming. So long as these areas remained godforsaken nobody thought about them. But no sooner than the land sharks realised the potential of the areas for urban and other development purposes, everyone had to move out, sound agricultural wisdom notwithstanding. All cries of protest were drowned in the new clamour for 'beautification'.


Who's to blame?

Habitat destruction and increased human encroachment disturb the leopard community of India. The problem has become especially acute in the suburbs of Mumbai. Builders and politicians have connived to grab large areas surrounding the wildlife parks. Consequently, the animals stray into these areas. Take, for instance, the film city at Goregaon that occupies 450 acres of land belonging to the Borivili national park. There are still 12,000 people who dwell illegally in the park abetted by vote bank politics. Meanwhile, forest officials are left with no option but to lay traps for the leopards in their own habitat regardless of whether they have caused any harm to the human population. Angry residents demand that the leopards be killed, when in reality it is they who have encroached into the national park.


Storming the teacup

The Tea Research Association and the United Planters Association of South India do a good job of researching on tea crop pests and pest management. The pesticide management guidelines framed by these institutes are strictly followed and monitored by tea plantations across India. It so happens that in India only three pesticides are used on tea plants, namely dicofol, ethion, and quinolphos. But the tea exported to Europe has to be tested for a stupendous 92 to 105 pesticides. Why should Indian tea be subjected to tests for pesticides that are not used at all?

Are the countries importing tea from us interested in the health of their citizens or is it mere certification of products that they are concerned about? Why are not suitable measures being taken to educate them? Likewise, are the names of pesticides listed for testing on Indian tea by European countries available to Indian plantations?


We, the losers

Apropos the piece 'Troubled start' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 4, July 15, 2004), it was amusing to read about the struggle over control of panchayats between the Union ministry of rural development (mord) and the newly-created ministry of panchayati raj affairs (mopra). Raghuvansh Prasad Singh opposes the very creation of mopra. His view is that rural development is possible only through panchayats, and that by appropriating control of panchayats, mopra will render mord redundant. However, Mani Shankar Iyer feels that the cause of rural development can be better served with a mopra independent of mord. The tussle brings to mind the story of a football match arranged between God and Satan. "I shall win, because I have the best players on my side," said God confidently before the game. "Aha, but I have all the referees on mine!" replied Satan. The winner of the mord-mopra tussle will take all. Alas, the devil will remain the patron!

Delhi ...

Pick of the post bag

Hard to get
Apropos 'In a fix: The precarious geopolitics of Phosphorus" (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 3, June 30, 2004), India produced nearly 44 lakh tonnes of p fertilisers between 2002-2003 as against nearly 2 lakh tonnes in 1990-1991. The imports during this period were 15,45,000 tones and 13,11,000 tonnes, respectively. Nitrogen, on the other hand, increased from hardly 70,00,000 tonnes to 1,08,76,000 tonnes.

Mineral elements exist in soil in either soluble or insoluble forms, their nature determining their ability for plant uptake. Phosphorus has a tendency to get rapidly converted into less soluble compounds and is difficult to access for plant nutrition. At other times it occurs bound to clay and organic soil compounds and is relatively immobile in the soil. In contrast, potassium and the ammonium and nitrate forms of nitrogen are more soluble.

Nitrogen use efficiency in a tropical country like India is less than 50 per cent. Worldwide, a huge quantity of expensive fertilisers like urea is wasted through leaching in the soil, or evaporation. Controlled release fertilisers using coatings with inhibiting enzymes, inorganic or polymeric coatings can increase the nitrogen use efficiency. In fact, just 10 per cent increase in urea use efficiency can save the world nearly us $ 15 billion and ensure a better environment.

As regards phosphate fertiliser, where India is vulnerable, the use efficiency scenario is worse. dap, the prime phosphatic fertiliser. is costly but popular. Half the p remains in the soil. Microorganisms can solubilise insoluble phosphate into soluble forms by secreting organic acids up to 20-30 per cent and increase the crop yield. However, these products have not reached even 2 per cent of our farms and a massive programme is needed to standardise and popularise them.

However, using such rock phosphates directly after treatment with microbial formulations appeared promising. A whole new approach can help solve the problem of dwindling phosphorus.


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