Published: Monday 15 November 2004


I have filed a writ petition regarding the unavailability of safe and potable water in various villages of the Pali district, Rajasthan. Tests show there should be concern regarding the health of the residents of Patwa, Devariya, Berkala and Nimbol villages of Pali, as extremely contaminated drinking water is being supplied by the local administration.

As per the Bureau of Indian Standards (bis), the level of total dissolved solids (tds) must be less than or equal to 500 milligrammes per litre (mg/l) for potable water. The tests showed that tds is 4,250 mg/l in the water of Devariya; in Nimbol it was found to be 3,448 mg/l; in Berkala it is 4,140 mg/l; in Patwa the value is 2,660 mg/l.

The levels of chlorides (cl-1) are 1,447 mg/l, 1,442 mg/l, 1,588 mg/l and 766 mg/l respectively. According to bis, the maximum level of cl -1 in water should not exceed 250 mg/l. The maximum amount of sulphate, according to BIS, should not be more than 200mg/l. The tests indicated that the sulphate levels were alarming -- 519 mg/l in Devariya, 346 mg/l in Nimbol and 394 mg/l in Berkala.

The fluoride content must be less than or equal to 1 mg/l, but the report indicates it is 2.60 mg/l in Patwa and 2.28 mg/l in Devariya.


A small mistake

The article 'Observing jungle laws' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 10, October 15, 2004) is a good review of the Community Forestry Report. However Enviro-Legal Defence Firm (eldf) has been wrongly quoted as a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation. eldf is a law firm.


Don't neglect Japanese encephalitis

Apropos 'Donors give...' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 9, September 30, 2004), Molyneux advocates investing in programmes aimed at tackling 'neglected' diseases. This appeal is very timely. But Molyneux should also include Japanese encephalitis (je) in his list of neglected diseases. je is important due to its wide distribution, affecting a large number of people each year, especially the youngsters and children. Unlike other neglected diseases, je is a 'vaccine-preventable' ailment; an effective vaccine is available for human and veterinary use. Ironically, there is no national policy on je vaccination.

Scientists, administrators and non-governmental organisations are less interested in tackling this disease because Western countries are not concerned about je. This mindset should change if we have to save millions of people in poor countries from the clutches of several neglected, but very important, diseases.


Mega projects, mega destruction

Of all the ecologically destructive projects sanctioned by the government and reported by the media, the most stunning ones usually are the best examples of total destruction. For instance, the Karnataka government has sanctioned a project whereby 50 hectares of land will be converted into a golf club. The club will destroy greenery, gluttonously consume precious water and produce tonnes of garbage. Hardly a few hundred people will get jobs in the club, that too at a pittance. Pollution from cars and other vehicles will disturb the peaceful environs.

Andhra Pradesh -- a state wanting to become the us of India -- is known for its liking for fancy and ugly projects, which destroy open/green lands. This is like adding poison to milk and offering it to people. In many parts of the state, sewage is dumped into the sea, which kills fish and other marine organisms.

If the coastal areas are deprived of their greenery and openness due to concrete structures, it will create drastic weather disturbances. Moreover, where will the state get water to run hundreds of companies that consume millions of gallons of water per day? They will either opt for exploitation of underground resources or divert more water from the nearest river to these campuses, thereby depriving agriculturists of their irrigation water.

Of all the industries destructive to the environment pharmaceutical and chemical companies, and mining, top the list. They consume a lot of water, but their benefit to society is just a few hundreds jobs. Thousands of jobs can be created with the help of dynamic rural employment and through agro-industrial forums. Moreover, the drug companies want to force-feed Indians with their drugs for illnesses that result from what their industry counterparts do: polluting and destroying India.

Environmentalists across the country should unite and then launch a protest to stop these fancy projects that will ruin millions of poor people as well as the fragile ecobalance.

There is yet another important issue that should be highlighted -- the ruin of Bangalore. In almost all the newspapers published from Bangalore, photographs of glamourous models are published; they are so beautiful that internationally they will be voted the best. The photographs of the city's roads can also help earn a title -- the title of being the world's "best ugliest roads". Ask any citizen except those staying in posh areas of the city, and they will say that Bangalore is fast becoming a mad/ugly/mismanaged city thanks to the various nodal bodies of the government and local politicians.

Recently the mayor made the most "unprofessional and childish remark". He asserted: "Potholes caused by rains should not be blamed on them." But in the Marine Drive area of Mumbai, which receives much more rainfall than Bangalore, the roads are always in a good condition (despite them facing more traffic load than any of the Bangalore roads). The reason behind the difference is simple -- Marine Drive was laid with uttermost care and professionalism by the best engineers and people who did not believe in corruption and mismanagement.

We have great companies like Jaiprakash Industries and Gammon. But none of these companies are given the contract to lay the roads in and around Bangalore. Why? The contracts are given to corrupt and unprofessional contractors who lay the road and, the next day, a crack develops.

The main problem of Bangalore is mismanagement. The most unprofessional and unethical practices are rampant among the various bodies of the government. They are headed by leaders who lack commitment, love and values. The ruin of Bangalore is because of corruption. The 100-odd corporators, members of the legislative assembly and the members of parliament just want to make a fast buck. Result: if Rs 100 is the money embarked to lay a road, Rs 20 will go for doing so and Rs 8.

The hypocrisy of the World Bank

The article 'Devolution is bankrupt' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 8, September 15, 2004) highlights the fiscal ruin of local bodies like panchayats. The World Bank is bemoaning about the meagre resources given to these panchayats; but the same institution has made the panchayats powerless.

The bank is assisting many schemes in Karnataka like the Sujala Watershed Project and Jal Nirmal; under the aegis of these schemes, it has consistently promoted the formation of parallel bodies at the village level by constituting tank users groups, community-based organisations and other extra-constitutional bodies, without conferring any powers and resources to the panchayats.

Sujala is spending Rs 599.12 crore, but not even a single rupee is given to the panchayats. The funds are given to the parallel bodies. The panchayats, which have constitutional powers to promote and protect water resources at the village level, are kept away. But when the project is over, they are asked to maintain the structures created under these 'special programmes'. Thereafter, knowing that the panchayats have no funds, many blame these grassroots' organisations for not doing their constitutional work.

The World Bank officials have no moral authority to talk about fiscal decentralisation when they themselves promote fiscal centralisation and profligacy in their development work in many states of our country. The left hand of the bank should know what its right hand is doing.


Stop ruining hill towns

The article 'High altitude sickness' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 9, September 30, 2004) highlights the systematic rape of hills under the garb of tourism. Hill towns anywhere in the country have become an extension of the popular Karol Bagh market of New Delhi, both in the literal and metaphorical sense.

The obsession for covering every inch of space is mind-boggling. In Shimla, after the construction of a retention wall, buildings were constructed on it. Once the buildings were passed on to the owners, they systematically scooped out the filling from the retention wall, which is called dangas in the local parlance. Result -- the cushion that these dangas provided against any rumblings within the Earth is now gone. The place is now replete with totally unstable structures that can could topple down like a house of cards after even a small seismic disturbance.

Shimla used to be a pensioners' paradise. But during the tourist season, the inflow of vehicles is such that the senior citizens cannot even walk on the roads. Development should not imply a pressure on the hills. At present, they are being looted systematically, with each illicit hole being a small taint in the fabric of hill-town history.


Pick of the post bag

The best dose
Apropos 'The wrong dose' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 9, September 30, 2004), the author seems to give an impression that India had committed some form of mistake by opting for oral polio vaccine (opv) instead of the injectable polio vaccine (ipv). This is a misleading assumption. How can one deny the role of a vaccine that has been able to wipe off almost all the wild poliovirus cases from the entire country barring a few 'hotspot' regions? The number reduced from more than 32,000 cases per year to merely 100-odd cases since the inception of polio eradication initiative in 1995! The author suggests some vested interest behind abandoning the project of using the indigenously manufactured ipv. But the same vested interest may be operational now, lobbying for the inclusion of ipv in the ongoing polio eradication initiative.

The prospects of wide-scale use of ipv during the post-eradication phase are also not very bright. Even the World Health Organization (who) does not want it, and most of the international donor agencies would also not approve of it. That's why they have left the decision of using ipv during the 'post-certification' era to individual countries, implying subtly that they are not willing to share the huge economic burden of the move! The Technical Consultative Group of the who has suggested two key options for the developing countries: gradual phasing out of opv under the umbrella cover of ipv, or stopping all forms of polio vaccination preceded by mass campaign with opv (without using ipv at all).

Right now, India is spending more than Rs 600 crore per year on the polio eradication programme. Only 20 per cent of this is being granted by the international funding agencies. If the country were to start using ipv, the expenditure would be 20-25 times higher considering each dose of ipv costs Rs 125 against a meagre Rs 5 per dose for opv. Therefore, the most likely scenario is that India will continue to use opv in its periodic mass campaigns for a few more years.

Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh...

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