Published: Thursday 30 September 2004


Recently, when I was attending a seminar in Leh (Ladakh), I realised that the town has to contend with a perennial electricity problem. Most of the areas remain plunged in darkness, which goes on to explain the popularity of diesel generator sets. But this is not without its attendant hazards. These generators release pollutants into the pristine environs of Leh. It is time concerned authorities came up with a solution to the problem.



Apropos the story 'Fat chance' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 24, May 15, 2004), laughable as it may seem, elephants too suffer obesity. The problem is evident not so much in the animals living in their natural habitat as in their more 'civilised' cousins. These elephants -- found in temples, circuses, zoos -- have no physical activity whatsoever. Worse still, they are force-fed on sugarcane, jaggery, banana, are easy aids to fat accumulation. If obesity in humans leads to diabetes, blood pressure, hypertension, heart ailments, and unnaturally high cholesterol levels, elephants too develop ailments such as arthritis, footrot and infertility.

According to Jacob Cherian, an elephant expert, obesity leads to the problem of thickening skins, fat accumulation in the abdomen, loosening of abdominal muscles and fat under the eyes and neck. Other than this, the condition also hampers mating and results in reproductive disorders. Take for instance, the growing problem of still-born elephant cubs in zoos across Europe. According to Fred Kurt, an elephant scientist from Germany, 48 per cent of the cases are a direct consequence of obesity. It is obvious that humans are doing to elephants what they do to themselves. Today, most homes have opted for the hassle-free though unhealthy fast food. What makes things worse is that these food items have acquired connotations of social status. Consequently, nutritive traditional foods such as chola (Bengal gram), chira (beaten rice) and muri (puffed rice) have fallen off our palates.


Passing the muck

The story 'Mucky transfer' (Down To Earth, Vol 12, No 23, April 30, 2004) deserves praise for highlighting an issue of public concern. It is wrong to hold Bangalore responsible for the contamination of drinking water in the towns of Anchetti and Takkati in Tamil Nadu. The Karnataka government has made an appreciable attempt at treating sewage generated in Bangalore city. If indeed Bangalore sewage flowed into the Ponnaiyar river, all habitation along the river would have been affected, especially the habitations near Bellandur and Varthur lakes. These areas use the lake waters for agricultural as well as drinking water purposes. The sewage generated in the catchment area of the Ponnaiyar is definitely not so much as to flow to so great a distance in the absence of rains. Moreover, one must take into consideration the losses due to percolation and evaporation.

Therefore, the health problems faced by the people of the two towns must be because of local concentrated contamination. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that Bellandur lake restoration employs bio-remediation that necessitates zero discharge of untreated sewage into the lake. The capacity of the sewage treatment plant on the banks of Bellandur lake is also being enhanced.


Omission noted

This is with reference to the article 'In Mowgli's land' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 7, August 31, 2004). If the people of Pench are in such a sorry state, one hates to imagine what the plight of the tigers there must be. The author of the piece has just made a passing reference to this. The topic merits an indepth discussion.


Patent problem

Apropos the article 'Vexed issue' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 3, June 30, 2004), gene contamination is a bogus issue, scientifically and legally, because gene flow is a natural biological phenomenon. Gene contamination or genetic pollution is a concoction of the anti-gm lobby and lacks scientific backing.

Percy Schmeiser, the Canadian farmer, was unable to prove to the court that his large tract of gm canola owed itself to pollen drift from neighbouring gm canola fields, and consequently lost the case against Monsanto. Court records clearly establish that Schmeiser had planted gm canola which he had purchased illegally. It was not a frivolous case. To fix liability, one has to prove economic loss or environmental damage. Natural gene flow that takes place, albeit at low frequency, falls within tolerable limits of the seed industry standards.

Therefore, if one detects a transgene in a non- gm crop within those limits, there will be no economic loss. It is then not necessary that patents provide scope for greater liability.


Elephantine woes

Some time back one of the African nations reported a case wherein hundreds of elephants had to be killed in a bid to preserve and protect the natural habitat. The recent crisis in Assam is the exact opposite.

In Assam, a declining forest cover is threatening the state's elephant population. The crisis is forcing the state machinery to seek viable options for preserving the animals. The Elephant Mahut School set up by the Assam State Forest Department is one such attempt. The school was established at Basbari in the Manas National Park, Barpeta district, this year. The school trains batches of 20 mahuts (elephant trainers) in dealing with each and every possible aspect of the animal's character, health and well-being.

As the cost of maintaining an elephant is also 'elephantine', today most elephant owners find it difficult to support their wards. The problem is further compounded by the 2003 Amendment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 banning the sale of elephants which came into effect beginning April 1, 2003. Things have come to such a state that most of these domestic elephants now have to depend upon the proceeds gathered from 'begging'.


All for river-linking

Apropos the article 'Mega-mishap' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 8, September 15, 2004), it is surprising that despite the fact that every year large numbers in the subcontinent suffer from the fury of the floods, hardly anything is done to tackle the crisis. It is true that remedial measures can scarcely be achieved overnight, but then there is no evidence whatsoever of any concrete and forward planning . It is not a question of establishing more advanced warning systems. After all, these can only forecast the floods when what is required is a substantial preventive mechanism.

What does river-linking purport to achieve? Most importantly, it will ensure better distribution of water -- take water where it is available in excess and feed it into other drier areas. There is an ongoing debate on river-linking in India. Experts forewarn possibilities of large-scale environmental degradation consequent to river-linking. There is a fear that the project will have far-reaching repercussions, ecological as well as environmental, and render thousands of people homeless. But if one pauses to think, even floods cause heavy devastation leading to unplanned migration. Instead of blindly opposing river-linking, a wiser option would be to work towards perfecting it. In fact, it is this alone that is likely to make a substantial difference to the flood scenario. The governments of India, Nepal and Bangladesh must give a serious thought to the matter.


Future tense

This is with reference to the article 'Hope in a heap' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 5, July 31, 2004) on the generation of power from biomass. Given below, is the biomass shortage as estimated by the Planning Commission for the 10th plan.

That being the case, it is quite appropriate that the first right to biomass should rest with the livestock. A factor to be taken into consideration while formulating any policy concerning their proper utilisation.

New Delhi

Supply and demand of green and dry fodder: projected estimates in million tonnes
Year Green Dry
Supply Demand Deficit Supply Demand Deficit
2000 384.5 988 603.5 428 549 121
2010 395.2 1061 665.8 451 589 138
2020 405.9 1134 728.1 473 630 157

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