Published: Sunday 31 October 2004

A burden called bureaucracy

The editorial, 'The battle of the Indian bulge-ii' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 9, September 30, 2004) is interesting. The government along with the public sector machinery gets the highest remuneration for its 'competence', despite not being knowledgeable. In other words, they get 'administered remuneration' rather then their real 'market value'; this three per cent of the country's working population gets wage corrections, with continuous increase in 'cost-price index' and the burden is passed on to the remaining 97 per cent of the working population. This to my mind is atrocious. Why should an ordinary working person take this burden to maintain (and improve!) the quality of life for these 'over valued'?


A modification of facts

With reference to 'Patent problem' (Down to Earth, Vol 13, No 9, September 30, 2004), I would beg to differ with S Shantharam's contention that gene contamination or genetic pollution is a concoction of the lobby that is up in arms against genetically modified organisms; the fact that he mentions such a lobby is perhaps indicative of the existence of a " gm lobby". From this, it is so obvious where this scientist's loyalties lie.

Even a third grader knows that gene flow is a natural phenomenon; what is repeatedly and vehemently denied by the " gm lobby" is that contamination by modified genes is always happening. That this "bogus issue" is scientifically and legally accepted is because the scientists and their private sector research patrons are the ones who primarily constitute this fraternity.

Proponents of the Green Revolution also made sweeping claims while promoting the so-called high yielding varieties. Were the resultant loss of agro-biodiversity, chemical and pesticide pollution, declining yields and farmers' suicides also "bogus issues", of an identical kind?. If you develop a Frankenstein product and profit from it by duping the users, you are also responsible for the damages that the product may cause and patents need to provide greater liability; that is generally termed as being even-handed and just. But then when did fairness and business ever go together with the " gm lobby"?


Debate about eco-development

Apropos 'Officially bankrupt' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 5, July 31, 2004), no adverse reports/commentaries were heard on the India Eco-Development Project (iedp) during the the programme. But after the project, assessments reports/commentaries are very bad and distressing.

The funding agencies/implementing agencies should know that a five-year project is impracticable. The target groups of iedp are the innocent/uneducated tribals or very poor people who generally take longer to understand any scheme and to derive benefit from the project. The project would have worked had it been for 10 years. Moreover, it should be limited to Rs 3 to 5 crore per year.

Deputy conservator of forests

It was not the 'innocent/uneducated' tribal who demanded the Rs 244 crore for the project. It was the forest department that asked for the princely sum, in the name of ecodevelopment, to climb out of its colonial hangover. The story clearly proves so. It is asking for a matching amount for yet another project.

But B M T Rajeev is correct when he says that during the ecodevelopment project no one heard any criticism or publicised any adverse report. That does not mean they did not exist. They remain buried in internal records of the World Bank and the government. Down To Earth got access to several such scathing reports of the government, the Bank and other agencies....

Plight of the hill towns

The article 'High altitude sickness' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 9, September 30, 2004) highlights the dismal conditions of Indian hill-stations. It is important to consider the pros and cons of the Maharashtra government deciding to establish a new Mahabaleshwar hill-station near Satara (occupying Kas and the surrounding area), since the nearby Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani hill-stations are choked with traffic and are on the verge of environmental degradation.

Kas falls under the Western Ghats, declared a global mega-biodiversity centre. To convert Kas into a hill-station, the Maharashtra government proposes to occupy nearly 37,263 hectares of land.

Flora and fauna recorded so far at Kas and nearby localities have created great enthusiasm among taxonomists. Top among the list of flora recorded here is Aponogeton satarensis species, which is endemic to Kas. Other endangered species found here include Arisaema sahyadricum, Arisaema murrayi, Bigonia trichocarpa, Ceropegia jainni, Rotala ritchiei, Seshagiria sahyadrica, Dipcadi maharashtraensis and Hebenaria panchganensis.

Therefore, this area should be studied further and be declared as the hottest ecosensitive zone, instead of creating five star facilities to establish the hill station. The Maharashtra government should make efforts to preserve degrading ecology at existing hill-stations rather than entering into new ventures and creating another environmentally degraded spot within the next few years.


The article 'High altitude sickness' clearly brings out a well-known fact: how the beautiful hill-stations of our country are doomed. Things are, however, improving in Metheran. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the hill-station was plagued with garbage and other filth.

In August 2002, a programme was evolved by the Matheran Bachao Samiti, an non-governmental organisation (ngo), the local municipal council and the Indian Centre for Plastics in Environment (icpe). Prior to the programme, the municipal council wanted to ban all plastic packets, bottles and bags brought up the hill, as the waste they created had become completely unmanageable.

But the ngo and icpe advocated the 'three r approach' -- recover, reuse and recycle. They convinced the municipal authorities that the waste could be recycled. Along with the Hotel Owners Association, the organisations started a waste collection system with a contribution of Rs 1 per hotel room every day. Dry waste was segregated from the liquid waste. icpe urged recyclers to take away the dry waste. The liquid waste was composted in a huge pit constructed in the municipal compound. By October 2002, the entire hill station was transformed.

If Matheran can breathe a sigh of relief, so can the other hill stations. There has to be a will to do so.

Mumbai, Maharashtra...

Pick of the post bag

Water: way to good governance
These days, when water is becoming a marketable commodity, panchayat leaders look at it as an instrument to stabilise their position -- they identify water not only as a source of strength, but also as an instrument of social justice. They make water an entitlement of the people, thereby making masses the stakeholders. The leaders get the support of communities for their other activities by addressing water woes. In normal circumstances, water sources are in habitations of the hindus; the marginalised, particularly the dalits, cannot get water from these sources on a regular basis. The leaders ensure everybody, including dalits, gets due share.

The best examples are in Tamil Nadu: Semmipalayam gram panchayat in the Coimbatore district, Kakkanur panchayat in the Villupuram district, Devipattinam and Sakkarakottai panchayats in the Ramanathapuram district. These have demonstrated that maintaining water supply system in the villages will strengthen the panchayat system. In Semmipalayam, the panchayat president scored a remarkable achievement by creating a water source near the dalit settlement and entrusting the management of the distribution system to the dalits.

Likewise, in Kakkanur panchayat, the president made an earnest effort to create a water distribution system with active dalit participation. In both places, water is being distributed to all after collecting a charge. Moreover, unlike the general assumption, dalits are also paying. They assert that if water supply is to their satisfaction, they are ready to pay. At the same time, they feel it should be in their hands. In these two panchayats, this is happening: they operate the system according to their own requirements and timings.

In Devipattiinam and Sakkarakottai, they provide water only at public points. This has ensured regular supply. As a result, a new postulate is emerging that water binds the panchayat with the community. Further, it has been proved that people come forward to pay for water if they are assured of a regular supply.

Moreover, people are sensitised on the importance of management. Villages that never cared are now turning towards water supply management systems, managed not by any external agency, but by the community itself through a participatory approach. It has also been proved beyond doubt that whoever solves the water problem in the village will get the support of the community.

Gandhigram, Tamil Nadu...

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