Published: Wednesday 15 December 2004

Biased expression?

The article, 'The face of extinction' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 12, November 15, 2004), is a rambling diatribe, which does not join up at any point. Its sole purpose is to leave a negative impression of the "conservation game" on the mind of a reader. Initially, it states that defining species is "simple". Thereafter, it is said that the concept is useless. In between, it is mentioned that conservationists are confused about the terms "rare" and "at risk"; if the species concept is 'ditched' and the world is seen at the family level, things won't look so bad after all, the article mentions. Why worry about the extinction of tiger or gorilla when the domestic cat and ourselves are there to carry the family name. We have good, solid science of "many scientists, especially geneticists" for reassurance. So solutions of conservationists are scarier than extinction itself. Better to do nothing. The only solution offered by the unknown author is to increase the size of protected areas, which fortunately for him/her would require an unacceptable level of displacement of people.

The four illustrations of the critically endangered species show that conservationists' scaremongering is purely "notional" and worst of all "theoretical. Sadly, the reality is different -- it is not safe to take for granted the future of any living organisms' population. The British Broadcasting Corporation recently reported that half of European bird species' populations are declining. Shouldn't we worry?

Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu...

Interlinking rivers: pros and cons

Apropos L K Verma's letter, 'All for river-linking' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 9, September 30, 2004), the task force on the interlinking of rivers has stated that the main aim of the project is to take water from where it is available in excess to dried up areas; the project is also likely to substantially reduce floods. As per Verma, opposition to the project is unjustified.

Let us discuss the issue logically. The river Ganga has an average flood discharge of 50,000 cubic metres per second (cumecs), ordinary discharge of 5,800 cumecs and a minimum monthly average flow of 1,500 cumecs. But its July 2004 flood discharge exceeded 50,000 cumecs. Therefore, if floods are to be prevented, a significant portion of the water needs to be diverted to a canal. The link canals proposed under the aegis of the project will be 50 to 100 metres (m) wide and more than six m deep. But a 10-m deep and 100-m wide canal for the Ganga-Subarnarekha link, for instance, will carry about 1,000 cumecs of water, while the flood water is more than 50,000 cumecs. Thus the canal will provide very little relief downstream; none upstream.

The task force and the Union ministry of water resources are afraid of putting their study reports in the public domain because they have very limited justification for the project.

sudhir vombatkere

Mysore, Karnataka...

The right energy policy

Officially administered pricing of petroleum products (except for cooking gas and kerosene) has been revoked. But going by the government's grip on the diesel and petrol prices, the above statement is a mockery. Instead of its ad hoc position on the prices of petrol and diesel, the government should evolve strategic plans for the following: reduce import; increase indigenous production; conserve petrol and diesel; incentives to switch over to ecofriendly gas; and encourage alternate energy sources to replace petrol and diesel in particular. Why can't we have an integrated energy policy with due regards to environmental issues? Such a policy can only be framed when there is a single Union ministry and not many, as is the case at present.

Kolkata, West Bengal...

The farm power divide

Apropos, 'Disconnect' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 11, October 31, 2004), in India, the use of tractors gained momentum in the early 1970s, with farmers yearning for more profits; this was followed by a decline in the farm cattle population. Ironically, even after so many years, there is no definite policy on mechanisation.

Even small and marginal farmers prefer mechanisation, because it is cheaper than animal power. Labour wages are very high; in some places, labour is unavailable due to government subsidy programmes. To benefit the rich, poor people are denied opportunities. Law is uniformly applicable to 'equals' only; rich people can surpass (purchase) any law. Moreover, the subsidies given to farmers are meagre, at times less than those given to industrialists. The income gap between the poor and rich has been widening, leading to social conflicts.


Destruction of hill-stations

With reference to S P Deodhar's letter (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 11, October 31, 2004), Maharashtra's politicians only want to commercially exploit hill-towns. Construction and tourism ravage Lonavala and Khandala. The suggestion of imposing an entry tax is just doing rounds of departments for permission.

Lonavala, Maharashtra...


A carbon-manufacturing factory in the Bogpani colony of Digboi, Assam, is polluting the environs extensively. A complaint about the same was recently registered in the regional office of the Union ministry of environment and forests; thereafter, the signboard of the factory was changed to 'Hanuman road carrier godown'. But to date, more than 15 dumpers carrying petroleum coal dust arrive at the factory everyday. The company stores this dust over tarpaulin sheets. Reason: the proof of its activities can be wiped out within a short while in case of an inspection.

The Oil Valley School, situated just 12 feet away from the factory, has more than 300 children. Their health is at risk because of the air pollution caused by the coal dust.

Oil Valley School,
Bogapani, Assam

Pick of the postbag

Yes, money grows on trees
The editorial, 'Money does grow on trees' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 11, October 31, 2004), is a reminder of the last note I submitted to the Orissa State Planning Board in 1994. The note was about a proposal for tribal area development; it was based on information extracted from the tour notes of the state's development commissioner. During his visit to the Kalahandi district, he observed the following: in one block, there was nearly 80,000 hectare of land under the control of the forest department, which was once a lush green forest. Simultaneously, there were nearly 20,000 households in the villages around this area who were landless.

As per the proposal, this area can be divided into some 20,000 plots of about four hectares each, and given to the landless households on a lease basis (at a nominal rent of one rupee per hectare); they can use the land for silviculture. The members of the households can be engaged as workers under the rural employment scheme to create small bunds around their plots and dig pits to plant bamboo, and other quick growing varieties of fuelwood trees (as the villagers know how to market these).

For about six years this work will go on. By the end of this period, the first batch of bamboo will be ready for harvesting; a little later, the fuelwood trees can also be mowed. Thereafter, the employment scheme may be stopped, as the villagers will have a steady income. They can also plant trees that take longer to grow.

Detailed studies undertaken around the Koraput district showed that indigenous people were in the habit of illegally cutting bamboo from the government-owned areas. The income from this practice was equal to half the household's total annual income. Therefore, in the proposal I argued that if people were permitted to grow bamboo and fuelwood, they would be better off.

But the note was greeted with a silence. The editorial strengthens my belief that the tribals may be given land (today bereft of any vegetation) to practice silviculture. If they try to grow commercial crops, their lease should be cancelled. Or else, the lease should be inheritable. But for this, the government should amend the rule that people living near the forest area should obtain the forest department's permission for every headload of natural resource to be used by them.


The editorial, 'Money does grow on trees', highlighted the reason why environmental groups are up in arms against the proposal of afforestation. The government's sale of forestlands at throw-away prices to industry is in conflict with conservation. This only serves the voracity and monopoly of industries, such as the paper and pulp sector.

This threat can turn into an opportunity only if growing trees is allowed to become an enterprise for the households.

Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu...

Use of water hyacinth

Apropos, 'How to use water hyacinth' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 11, October 31, 2004), the weed can be used for generating biogas. Reason: its moisture content is 92.87 per cent. It even has carbon, cellulose, hydrogen, nitrogen and lignin. It has been found that 53.50 litres of biogas can be produced from one kilogramme (kg) of wet water hyacinth; 750.61 litres of biogas can be produced from one kg of the dried weed. Biogas production per kg of volatile solids of water hyacinth is 919.24 litres.

It usually takes 9-12 days to produce biogas from the hyacinth. The Gujarat-based Jyoti Solar Energy Institute's biogas plant (with a capacity of 0.4 cubic metre) uses water hyacinth.


In principle, biogas can be produced from any kind of biomass. The procedure to produce biogas from water hyacinth is as follows -- cut the material into small pieces; soak the pieces in water for 15 days. Thereafter, along with cow dung, the pieces should be fed into a gas digester. Gas generation will start within the two or three days.

Gandhigram, Gujarat...


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