Published: Friday 31 December 2004

Traditional practices are the best

Apropos 'Disconnect' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 11, October 31, 2004), Ramesh Dagar of the village Akbarpur Barota, Haryana, has adopted traditional agricultural practices. According to him, from one hectare of farmland he may earn Rs 10 lakh per annum.

Dagar is also cultivating stevia, a herbal product. Its extract is 300 times sweeter than sugar. It can be a good substitute for sugar for diabetics.

Bharatiya Cattle Resource Development Foundation, New Delhi...

Keep up the good work!

At the beginning of the 2004 academic year, 29 students of class eight from Tumkur-based T V S School were asked to read any article of Down To Earth and submit a report after every 10 days. Thirty issues of the magazine were placed in the reading corner of the classroom. Nearly 80 per cent of the students submitted their reports regularly. They found the magazine very interesting. Feedback of some children is as follows:

"The articles helped me interrelate things with whatever we are learning."
-- anjushree

"A bank full of facts that have made me question issues critically."
-- ganashruthi

"It is necessary to be aware of the information provided in the magazine." -- rohit

"I stopped reusing plastic water bottles after reading Down To Earth ."
-- prathibha

"The articles motivate us to look for solutions to the ecoproblems."
-- priyanka

These comments and the reports of the children helped the teachers know the students' area of interest. The children have agreed to continue with the exercise.

Tumkur, Karnataka...

Polluting festivities

Marriage celebrations are increasing the pollution woes of north India. Water and electricity are being over-exploited, that too for needless dcor. Blaring music is another nuisance. Moreover, piles of leftover food and wilted flowers pollute the surroundings afterwards.

Hope, the younger generation would be more sensitive to this issue.

Arya College, Panipat, Haryana...

The woes of Gwalior

If one visits the city of Gwalior, pollution from tempos, the ancient mode of transport, comes as a shock. The diesel-powered tempos emit huge amounts of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. They openly violate the air pollution norms. Moreover, they also cause noise pollution.

The pedestrians and cyclists have to bear the brunt of the deadly pollutants. The situation can be easily termed as a crisis, as the tempos dominate the city's public transport system.

The situation was the same in Lucknow. Five years back, plying of the tempos was banned on the main route of the city; on the other routes, fitting of scrubbers was made compulsory. Moreover, Tata Sumo and mini buses were introduced as alternate forms of public transport. This brought down the pollution levels.

The public transport department of Gwalior should draw inspiration from the Lucknow experience and encourage the use of vehicles powered by the liquid petroleum gas. The Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board should also suggest pollution control measures to the regional transport departments under the air (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1981. This may help provide clean air to the public of Gwalior. Else, the people have to wait for a public interest litigation to combat this deadly menace.

Chief environmental engineer,
U P Pollution Control Board
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

Fluoride detector

Researchers from Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science and us -based University of Maryland have developed a low cost (less than Rs 1,000) led- based colorimeter to estimate fluoride levels in drinking water.

The device works satisfactorily, but its replication has become a major problem, as similar phototransistors (detectors) are unavailable in the market. Moreover, those available are of inferior quality, and many fail to perform. Consequently, the researchers have made only two devices.

Department of Chemical Engineering,
Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore

A novel idea

Water is wasted during irrigation of small farms. This problem can be overcome if a committee of farmers manages these farms as a whole.


The curse of Agent Orange

New Zealand is certainly facing misery induced by Agent Orange, as mentioned in the article 'Its official' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 12, November 15, 2004). I have sympathy for the country's soldiers, as they are innocent. But what about the people who had sent them for war?

I have been working in the Quangtri province of Vietnam. The entire province was once shrouded with the poison; to date, health as well as environmental problems persist. Somebody should go to Quangtri to conduct studies on the adverse effects of the chemical. It can be Monsanto officials; but their solution would be genetically modified trees resistant to Agent Orange! It is irrational to state that there are no problems in Vietnam. Agent Orange can be easily termed as a weapon of mass destruction.

In this context, I feel ashamed of being a White. Fortunately, Harold Wilson, a former prime minister of the uk , had sufficient guts to not support such criminal acts. But the present Labour government has not shown any moral fibre in context of crimes committed in Iraq.

Scotland, the UK...


Apropos 'Cool stuff' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 14, December 15, 2004), the dateline has been wrongly published. Alok Prakash Putul has reported from Chhattisgarh and Lakshmi Narain Coyalkar from Andhra Pradesh....


Many centres of the pollution under control (PUC) scheme give a certificate without examining the vehicle. Recently, I visited one such centre located at a petrol pump at Santacruz, Mumbai. As per its officials, it is unnecessary to test the vehicles as their emissions are within the norms. They are interested in giving the puc certificate as it means charging Rs 40 or more.

Does this not defeat the entire idea of a PUC check?


Pick of the postbag

It was a biased projection
Apropos 'Patent problem' (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 9, September 14, 2004), S Shantharam has made a series of misleading statements about the gene flow from genetically modified (gm) crops and the case of Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer, who was unable to prove to a court that the large tract of gm canola in his farm was due to pollen drift from the neighbouring fields; he had lost the case against Monsanto.

As per Shantharam, gm contamination was not an issue in the case because "court records clearly established that Schmeiser had planted gm canola purchased illegally". Ironically, the records of the court depict a different picture. Aaron Mitchell, the lead investigator for Monsanto in the case, told the trial court under oath that the company had no proof of anyone selling the seeds to Schmeiser. In the Supreme Court, the "illegal purchase" was not even mentioned once.

Shantharam indeed is anxious to write off the gm contamination found on Schmeiser's farm by labelling it as a deliberate purchase. Reason -- the most likely alternative is gene contamination from fields operated by Monsanto licensees; Shantharam dismisses this as a concoction of the anti- gm lobby. In fact, gene drift is the only probable explanation for the gm seeds found on Schmeiser's farm. No evidence has been provided to support any other logical reason.

Unlike the assertion of Shantharam, Schmeiser did not lose his case because he was unable to prove that the pollen had drifted to his field. The court decided that he knowingly 'replanted' the gm seed; replanting knowingly, the court ruled, constituted an infringement of Monsanto's patent. But the court also added: "Farmers suffering from gm contamination without knowingly using the resultant seed would not be guilty of infringing Monsanto's patent."

As a former employee of the biotech giant Syngenta, it is but natural for Shantharam to overlook these important points in the court's decision.

University of Washington, USA and
GM watch, USA...

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